Fueling Stations: Electric Cars Trump All Other Alt-Fuel Types

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2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station

2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station

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Since about 1930, U.S. vehicles have largely been fueled on gasoline.

Diesel passenger vehicles arrived in the 1960s, and there are now about 120,000 locations in the U.S. that offer one or both fuels.

Since then, several alternative fuels have been proposed but largely failed to get a foothold--until electricity. (Semantically, it's not exactly a "fuel," but let that slide.)

According to the Department of Energy, there are now almost 10,000 public electric-car charging stations in the country, a total that has largely arisen in only three years.

As always, a few caveats are in order. It's worth noting that each charging cable is counted as a single station, versus a gas station that may have multiple fuel pumps.

Also remember that far more effective range per minute is delivered by a 5-minute stop at the gas pump than by even a half-hour charging session at a rare DC fast charger.

The far more common public 240-Volt Level 2 stations only deliver about 10 miles' worth of energy per hour to an electric car.

Home charging not included

On the other hand, that public charging-station number doesn't include the tens of thousands of private charging stations located inside electric-car owners' garages.

Polar Network Charging Stations

Polar Network Charging Stations

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And that can't be said of any other alternative fuel except for a tiny number of home natural-gas fueling stations, each of which requires an electric compressor to get the gas into the car's high-pressure storage tanks.

After electric charging stations, the most numerous alternative-fuel station types (in order) are propane, E85 ethanol, and compressed natural gas (CNG). Bringing up the rear are B20 biodiesel, hydrogen, and liquified natural gas (LNG).

You can see the full and most-up-to-date DoE table, broken down by state, here, along with an explanation of its methodology. Note that stations for some fuels--natural gas, for instance--are clustered in just a few states (as are charging stations at the moment).

Electric wins, hydrogen loses

InsideEVs.com, which reproduced the table, uses the data to crow about the number of electric-car charging points far outpacing hydrogen stations--of which there are just 56 at the moment.

Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle at Camp Pendleton hydrogen fueling station, photo by Joe Tash

Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle at Camp Pendleton hydrogen fueling station, photo by Joe Tash

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And that total may be falling. Several hydrogen fueling stations operated by Shell over the last few years have now been shut down, including those in White Plains, New York, and Culver City, California.

There are plans to open more hydrogen stations in the Los Angeles area, where Mercedes-Benz is testing a small fleet of B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. 

Growing fast

But electric-car owners can take heart at the rapid growth of public charging infrastructure.

While charging station uptime varies among the confusing array of multiple networks with incompatible payment and membership systems, those stations are arriving at a far faster clip than stations for any other type of fuel.

Among other things, an electric-car charging station turns out to be far easier to permit and install--requiring less real estate and no volatile fuel storage tanks--than any other type of alt-fuel.

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