California is making an aggressive move to encourage development of a hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the state.

Assembly Bill 8 (AB8), which passed through the California Legislature last Wednesday, will fund at least 100 publicly-available hydrogen fueling stations over several years.

The bill commits $20 million a year to filling station construction until January 1, 2024.

And it's all toward the goal of making more than one zero-emission vehicle technology practical for everyday drivers.

fcx clarity fuelcell motorauthority 007

fcx clarity fuelcell motorauthority 007

Tens of thousands of plug-in electric cars are already in use on California roads, but with the exception of the Tesla Model S, all provide a range of 60 to 100 miles--which can be too little for California drivers.

AB8 is currently on the desk of California Governor Jerry Brown, who has indicated that he would sign it.

The bill follows an announcement earlier this year by California officials that set a goal of 70 hydrogen fueling stations by 2016.

Hydrogen stations could be just the thing to jump-start hydrogen's viability as an automotive fuel.

Manufacturers have already launched handfuls of hydrogen fuel-cell cars, including the Honda FCX Clarity and Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell pilot programs.

While fuel cell cars generally have longer ranges than plug-in cars--300 miles or more--drivers today often have to travel 20 to 40 miles just find a place to fill up.

In 2012, just 27 hydrogen fueling stations were built worldwide. In that context, California's plan is ambitious.

Toyota FCV-R concept, 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

Toyota FCV-R concept, 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

It's also ambitious in monetary terms. Hydrogen fueling stations today cost more than $1 million apiece to install, against less than $100,000 for public electric-car fast-charging stations.

Fuel-cell advocates may have to engage in serious political wrangling to expand the network beyond 100 stations--but the longer range of fuel-cell cars means that the initial stations can be widely spaced apart in the short term.

If nothing else, the rollout of California hydrogen stations will be well-timed.

Toyota has promised to launch a fuel cell vehicle by 2015, previewed by the updated FCV-R concept shown at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show.

Daimler, Ford, and Nissan-Renault are collaborating on the technology, with the first production car slated for 2017. General Motors and Honda too are collaborating on fuel cells, with production cars scheduled to appear around 2020.

When those cars are ready, there should be at least a few places in California for drivers to fill them up.


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