Germany Expanding Hydrogen Network: Will U.S. Ever Follow?

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Mercedes-Benz Hydrogen Fuel-Cell vehicle

Mercedes-Benz Hydrogen Fuel-Cell vehicle

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By 2015, Germany is expected to have 5,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles roaming the streets.

That doesn't sound like a great number, particularly when battery-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf are already selling in far greater numbers. But it still presents a problem, as that number relies on a network of stations at which to fill them.

That's why the German Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (BMVBS) and several industrial companies have signed a Letter of Intent to expand Germany's hydrogen filling station network. It will take the current tally of 15 hydrogen stations up to 50.

That's not a huge number either, but means there'll be a station for every hundred vehicles on the road. That's comfortably enough to support the limited numbers, and enough to support even greater numbers should hydrogen vehicles really take off in subsequent years.

The BMVBS and Germany's industrial sector are investing 40 million Euros, or $50.8 million, to expand the country's network.

Daimler AG, which revealed the news in a press release, suggests that "Electric vehicles equipped with a battery and fuel cell will make a considerable contribution to sustainable mobility in the future", though the company notes that the success of fuel cell vehicles in particular is very much linked to whether a suitable refueling network is in place.

Mercedes-Benz owners Daimler has itself invested heavily in hydrogen fuel cells, previewing vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz B Class F-Cell, a fuel cell version of the previous-generation B Class compact car. It sits above the electric A Class E-Cell and Smart ForTwo Electric Drive in Mercedes' zero-emissions range.

Germany is something of a leader in green energy, with large wind and solar electricity programs providing the country with significant amounts of power. Energy company TOTAL is already active in hydrogen mobility research, and is currently looking into producing hydrogen from excess wind energy.

So while Germany seems well on the way to adopting a hydrogen network, the U.S. still lags behind.

Admittedly, the U.S. is both much larger geographically and has a much larger automotive market for hydrogen to penetrate, but despite a slow and steady take-up for battery electric vehicles, hydrogen seems to be floundering.

Hydrogen's problems are well-documented, but Germany certainly seems to be more active in finding ways around them. Support from large automakers like Daimler is no doubt partly responsible.

So what would it take for hydrogen to work in the U.S? Is it a case of more filling stations to entice the manufacturers, or a carmaker to decide that hydrogen really is the answer for future mobility?

We think it could be a bit of a stalemate, with neither side really wishing to commit... but we'd like to hear our readers' thoughts too.

Will the U.S. ever follow Germany's lead in expanding the hydrogen network, or will battery electric vehicles ultimately improve enough to make hydrogen technology obsolete?

Let us know in the comments section below.

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