Hydrogen fuel-cell drivers in California’s San Francisco Bay Area may soon have to find a backup plan—like a gasoline or electric vehicle.

As of Wednesday night, 9 out of the 11 passenger-vehicle hydrogen stations in the Bay Area were down due to a hydrogen shortage—a status that remained the same going back to Monday. An explosion on Saturday, June 1, at a facility owned and operated by the chief hydrogen supplier for the region, Air Products and Chemicals Inc., is related to that shortage.

This is a critical issue for drivers of fuel-cell vehicles as they rely on the (very limited) hydrogen infrastructure. If that infrastructure goes down, drivers are simply out of luck.

Those with battery electric vehicles, on the other hand, have options. If they can’t charge up at home, they can fast-charge along the way, or connect to a Level 2 AC charge point at work or while shopping—or as a backup, at pretty much any AC socket along the way if they’re willing to wait all day or overnight.

2019 Toyota Mirai

2019 Toyota Mirai

Green Car Reports reached out to Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai, the three automakers currently offering hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, and received responses indicating each company is willing to step up and make sure its customers aren’t stranded.

“We sincerely regret any inconvenience our Mirai customers may experience, and we are working with them to help identify alternative fueling options, if needed,” said Toyota advanced technology communications manager Russ Koble. “We are also engaging with Mirai owners directly on a case-by-case basis to address their concerns.”

Honda issued the following statement: “If a Clarity Fuel Cell lessee is temporarily unable to refuel because of this issue, they may utilize the free luxury car rental program that Honda provides as part of each lease without impacting their twenty-one day allowance. Any lessees who want to take advantage of the rental option during this supply disruption should contact Honda Customer Service at 800-999-1009 for more information.”

Hyundai, which earlier in the week said that it is monitoring the situation closely, told GCR on Wednesday that it will also offer an assistance plan, soon to be detailed, for those affected.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Santa Barbara, CA, March 2017

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Santa Barbara, CA, March 2017

Fully filled with hydrogen, the 2019 Hyundai Nexo Blue is the current fuel-cell model with the longest EPA-rated range—380 miles. Other Nexo models are rated 354 miles, while the 2019 Honda Clarity and 2019 Toyota Mirai are rated 360 miles and 312 miles, respectively.

True Zero is the owner of 7 of the 9 affected stations; its founder and chief development officer Shane Stevens told San Francisco’s KGO-TV earlier in the week that there are as many as 3,500 hydrogen vehicles in the Bay Area.

According to the trade publication GasWorld, the explosion occurred when filling a hydrogen distribution trailer, and the incident is being investigated. The outage appears to also affect several Air Products stations in the Los Angeles region.

"It may be several weeks before Air Products can fully assess the property damage and look to re-establish fueling operations at the site," explained the company in an update posted Tuesday night. 

"We are actively investigating the cause of the incident," Air Products explained to us on Thursday, avoiding any specific estimate on timeline for restoring a normal supply. "Additionally, immediately after the incident, we believed it was only prudent to also temporarily suspend all deliveries and service from our hydrogen fueling-related trailer fleets to proactively conduct a full precautionary inspection of this delivery equipment. Upon clearance after inspection, this equipment is and has been returned to service."