While support for hydrogen trucks is still building, the market for hydrogen passenger vehicles simply doesn’t seem to be there. Shell has decided to close all of its seven California-based hydrogen stations for light-duty vehicles due to “supply complications and other external market factors”.
The support for hydrogen-powered passenger cars seems to be dropping. Even Toyota, a firm believer in alternatives for battery-electric vehicles (BEV), has shifted its hydrogen strategy to commercial vehicles rather than cars, as the fuel cell-powered Mirai fails to catch on in its second generation.
Misled by suppliers
Now, oil giant Shell has decided to close down its California-based hydrogen stations for light-duty vehicles after initially planning to build 48 of these stations in the state. Hydrogen Insight first published the news, with Shell citing “supply complications and other external market factors”. Shell’s three heavy-duty hydrogen stations will remain in use.
The supply complications seem to come from the Japanese gas company Iwatani, which runs the stations and is, in turn, suing its Norwegian supplier Nel for “hiding defects and misleading the company”. And with the lack of demand to make fixing the problem worthwhile, Shell seems to have decided to cut its losses.
This makes finding fuel an even more difficult task for California-based FCEV drivers, even in a state that is one of the strongest hydrogen markets worldwide. But even there, the only three available models (Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Nexo, and the Honda Clarity) aren’t selling and are becoming worth even less on the second-hand market.
Commercial vehicles better suited?
Instead, the more viable business case for hydrogen-powered vehicles will be found in the commercial market. In Europe, Stellantis is offering a hydrogen version of all of its mid-sized and large vans, while new stations are being built by Daimler Truck (Mercedes) in Germany and by Nikola in the US.
In the commercial space, hydrogen’s additional uptime, thanks to shorter refueling times compared to charging and the extra payload due to the lack of a heavy battery pack, seems to offset the energy efficiency and cost drawbacks compared to a battery-electric solution. But the technology is still in its infancy, with production-ready heavy trucks from the big manufacturers still a few years away compared to the already-available electric alternatives.