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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Comments (18)
  1. The very laws of Physics suggest that hydrogen fuel cells will never be a viable mass market proposition but clearly that doesn't stop the Germans from pursuing this pipe dream. I doubt it's German businesses that will pay for these hydrogen stations though, it's no doubt the German taxpayer.

    Oh well, large (financial)corporations and governments working together to make taxpayers pay for their monumental failures is pretty much the name of the game in the EU right now, and compared to the sort of money the Germans will end up paying for the epic flop that is the Euro this little hydrogen adventure is no doubt just peanuts.

    But Germany as an example for other nations? Hardly....

  2. "The very laws of Physics" suggest no such thing. However, the fallible creatures [Humans] that interpret the outdated data, do.

    Regarding the German taxpayer... leave it alone. [Since you don't know the system there.]


  3. "The very laws of physics". Each time you change energy from one form to another, there is some loss to heat. Where does this hydrogen come from? If it is from natural gas, then the whole point of carbon-free energy is lost. If it comes from water, then there is some loss extracting the hydrogen. Usually done by electricity and even when not, the same power source could produce electricity more efficiently. The losses transmitting electricity through wires pales in comparison to the losses of compressing and transporting hydrogen. Finally there is the 60% efficient fuel cell. Because of all these steps, hydrogen will always be much more expensive than electricity.

  4. 1. Several ways of producing hydrogen; one dating back to mid 1700's producing cubic meters [hot air balloons] of hydrogen used neither of the 2 you mentioned. It's a choice.

    2. Energy is lost producing electricity and storing it in batteries, so stop with the finger pointing.

    3. 3 ways to store hydrogen [solid, liquid, gas]. Not all require compression. Again, it's choice.

    4. As stated below, everyone in this game has a trump card. Hydrogen just got backing/confirmation by heavy hitters in academia over multiplying its energy production in the triple digits. That is, what energy was derived before is now hundreds of times more.


  5. If you want to educate yourself on the hydrogen:

  6. 1. You have posted Zubrin's comments before, who is pushing alcohol over everything else -- BEV's included. ;) ;) The enemy of my enemy is my friend does not apply when that enemy is yours as well.

    BTW, was the solution offered BEV's?

    2. There are many fallacies in Zubrin's argument, which this forum is not suited for addressing. [space limitations] i.e. exaggerated storage costs, transportation costs, electrolysis energy use, purity required...; embrittlement; IC motor and H2 use is false--lack of IC principles is demonstrated.


  7. Being a proponent of biofuels makes Zubrin even more of my friend actually. Another guy I consider a friendly is energy secretary Steven Chu, one of a few Nobel Price winning scientists I'm aware of who are very sceptical of hydrogen.

    Remember his quote that hydrogen needs 4 miracles, where even saints only need three...

    Anyway, there is always going to be plenty of suckers to keep this pipedream alive I guess and Germany certainly has never had a shortage of suckers willing to follow pipedreams, the result of which is rarely "peace" by the way.

  8. There are more comments in this thread
  9. I love the irony of putting the word Efficiency on the side of the car.

  10. As usual, another lame article covering hydrogen... but on to the question.

    Each technology [hydrogen, alcohol, internal combustion motor, batteries, etc.] in this game holds a trump card. BEV's will not obsolete hydrogen technology, which has several options on its side.


  11. As usual, another lame comment knocking an article without providing evidence to the contrary.

    At such an early stage, it's incredibly difficult to tell how much of a future hydrogen has, certainly outside of countries like Germany that are investing much more heavily in it.

    Hydrogen, as a source of energy for passenger vehicles, could well be made obsolete by future battery tech. It's speculation at this stage (just like your own comments, then), but we're yet to see any solid evidence that hydrogen is a viable source of energy. Even if it is, the infrastructure requires a vastly greater investment than an electric one does.

  12. Read your title. The article is about hydrogen in Germany. You just compared 5K F-Cells in Germany to Leaf sales not in Germany, which is low double digits, but worldwide. That's lame.

    "...the current tally of 15 hydrogen stations up to 50. That's not a huge number either..."

    H2 stations are comparable to gasoline/petrol stations, which has been covered, and charging stations are necessary, but you point the finger at H2. Lame

    Hydrogen... could well be made obsolete by future battery tech... "

    'Could' is the operative word, but the assumption is technology only moves for batteries and nothing else.

    As stated above (4), Hydrogen just got confirmation by heavy hitters in academia - MIT, CIT, and others.


  13. I suggest you read the "lame" article again, since you've apparently picked up very little of it. 5,000 hydrogen vehicles of ANY sort, by 2015. Not F-Cells, and not today.

    "H2 stations are comparable to gasoline/petrol stations". Fair enough then: There are 15,000 gas stations in Germany.

    That STILL makes 50 H2 stations "not a huge number". Charging stations are less important as people can charge at home.

    Regarding point "4", I'm yet to see you post any sort of evidence that hydrogen is marching onward and upward. I'm not obliged to disprove a claim, you ARE obliged to prove one.

  14. Part 1

    So you will nitpick... okay. The comparison hasn't changed; Germany v. Leaf Global Market. Correct comparison would be FCEV's v. BEV's in Germany in 2015. That amounts to 42 months. That means, in your case, Nissan & others have until the end of 2015 to avg. sales of 119 BEV's per month. 'Good luck Jim'

    That STILL makes 50 H2 stations "not a huge number". Charging stations are less important as people can charge at home.

    You missed the feasibility study. Daimler said at least five to 10 filling stations are needed to supply a major city. It's called a roll out.


  15. Part 2

    "Regarding point "4"..."

    Went straight for the triple-double-dare! Yes, I admit I made a claim, however it was/is a counterclaim; no obligation on my part. :-)

    Anyways, here are some things: v=Rl2oGdAKtQk&feature=plcp

    MIT -- Terry Copeland PhD

    CIT -- W Henry Weinberg PhD


  16. I am glad the Germans are doing this so we don't have to. This will appeal to the upper class where fuel prices are not a concern but "green energy" is. For the masses that are concerned about fuel economy, the BEV will be much more attractive, and even the wealthy will appreciate the convenience of leaving home each day fully charged, instead of having to go to their nearest hydrogen fueling station.

  17. "there'll be a station for every hundred vehicles on the road."

    At 10 minutes for a fill-up that's 16 hours. Assume most people want to fill up during 7 to 9 am and 5 to 8 pm = 5 hours/day so for most people that means they could only fill up once every 3 days, and that is assuming a very precise fueling schedule (you have to book your time) and the FCV population is exactly distributed to optimize station use.

    Is my math in serious error, or is one station per 100 vehicles a bad joke? Oh, I know where I could be going wrong, maybe there are 6 pumps per station, still...

  18. "At 10 minutes for a fill-up that's 16 hours."

    Hydrogen fill-ups are comparable to gasoline/petrol. Avg. fill-up time at a gasoline/petrol station is 2-3 minutes. Hydrogen filling pumps are also similar to gasoline/petrol and diesel.


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