RIP Hydrogen Highway? California Takes Back Grant Dollars

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Even more so than with electric cars, the future of hydrogen vehicles depends on a network of filling stations to allow people to go about their journeys as normal.

That future has taken a blow in California, with the news that $27 million in grants for hydrogen filling stations has been revoked by the California Energy Commission.

According to the Santa Monica Mirror (via Autoblog Green), the grants have been revoked so the state can reassess the grant process, after complaints that Linde Group and Air Products & Chemicals (AP&C)--two companies set to use around two-thirds of the grant money--had largely self-dealt the contracts.

Only one hydrogen station approved by the California Fuel Cell Partnership (Chrysler, Daimler, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen) was due to be built by a company other than Linde and AP&C, leading to suspicions of collusion in the grant process.

As well as uneasiness over private companies controlling the public's tax dollars, there are questions about how green the hydrogen actually is--since much of the fuel Linde and AP&C will sell is from natural gas, rather than renewable sources. Air products has said that one third of its hydrogen will be extracted from landfill biogas, meeting the state's one-third-renewable energy requirements by 2020.

The grant withdrawal marks another step in the difficult journey hydrogen is taking to the market.

Several manufacturers and plenty of other companies are set on hydrogen as the next big thing in green transport, but as yet the technology is very expensive and no manufacturer currently sells a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle--though some have run hydrogen trials.

Unlike electric cars that can be charged at home, hydrogen vehicles will also need a full refueling infrastructure just like internal combustion vehicles. The grant was due to provide 100 stations in California by the end of 2010, and as many as 250 in total. In reality, there are only 23 stations in the state.

With the latest setback, it may be a while longer before any usable infrastructure is really ready.


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