Fuel cell vehicles wait to be refueled
Three fuel cell vehicles wait to be refueled at the True Zero pump in Carmel Valley. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Growing popularity of zero-emission cars powered by fuel cells has caused occasional shortages of hydrogen in San Diego, but the California Fuel Cell Partnership promises improvements.

The vehicles made by Toyota, Honda and Hyundai use compressed hydrogen to create electricity in a chemical process that produces only water as exhaust.

It takes less than five minutes to fill a tank, but drivers report shortages and long lines at the single hydrogen filling station in San Diego County.

Keith Malone, a spokesman for the Fuel Cell Partnership, said new production by Linde in Southern California will create enough hydrogen to fill 1,600 vehicles a day, while Air Liquide is opening a giant facility in Nevada to produce fuel for 42,000 cars a day.

While San Diego has only one station for now, two more are expected to open in 2022, and there are 47 other stations across the state, primarily in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, serving around 11,000 vehicles.

Malone said members of the fuel cell partnership, which include state government, private industry and academia, have sought to synchronize the rollout of vehicles and fueling infrastructure.

“Increasingly, our members are working to diversify and synchronize the production of hydrogen and incentivize the production of renewable and zero-carbon hydrogen to ensure reliable supplies of hydrogen,” he said. 

Steve Ellis, manager of outreach and communication at hydrogen supplier True Zero, said the San Diego market got “ahead of the curve” in adopting the new auto technology, while obtaining permits for filling stations took time, especially during the COVID pandemic.

The state of California is a major proponent of fuel cell technology for vehicles, and has committed to having 200 filling stations operating by 2025.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.