Electric vehicles, fine, but hydrogen fuel cell cars are even better - Capitol Weekly | Capitol Weekly | Capitol Weekly: The Newspaper of California State Government and Politics.

2022-08-13 10:54:18 By : Ms. Green Liao

Driving a fuel-cell car means hunting for stations, dealing with shortages and managing an unfamiliar nozzle that sometimes freezes to the car — but Sen. Josh Newman loves it.

“I’m the self-appointed chair of the ‘Hydrogen Car Caucus,’” said the senator from Orange County, whose personal car is a 2021 Toyota Mirai. Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine and Asssemblymember Bill Quirk, D-Hayward also drive, and advocate for, hydrogen vehicles.

“These are wonderful cars,” Newman said.

Given the vehicles’ extensive range, drivers in Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento or the Bay Area are within easy reach of a refill.

His home in Fullerton is only six miles from the nearest fill-up in Placentia. And if that one is out of hydrogen – a possibility, thanks to a spotty supply chain – there’s a pump in Irvine or another not far in Costa Mesa.

Newman is fortunate. There are only 60 such stations in the state.

But since they are concentrated where most people live, and given the vehicles’ extensive range, drivers in Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento or the Bay Area are within easy reach of a refill. People elsewhere will have to wait for the next wave of expansion.

“Infrastructure is where the heavy lift is,” said Newman.

“Sufficient infrastructure creates a self-sustaining market,” he said. “It’s a chicken and egg thing. Government needs to help advance the platform. We need to allocate funding for the buildout.”

Government does help, but not as much as it helps the electric vehicle market. That’s only partially a policy choice. It’s an acknowledgment of reality. Electric vehicles are ahead. There are more models, more price points and more places to “fill up.” They’ve been on the market longer and there are 50 times as many of them on California roads.

California law calls for a new car market in which no internal combustion engines are available by 2035, an ambitious goal by any measure.

Plug-in electrics came to market first. And even when charging stations were rare, drivers could use conventional outlets at home, a convenience requiring no new infrastructure. A broad adoption, of course, could stress an already burdened electrical grid – something the California Energy Commission hopes to avoid.

By the end of last year, there were about a half million plug-in cars in California, according to the  latest tally by the CEC. At the same time, just over 10,000 hydrogen-fueled electric vehicles were on California roads.

Those numbers barely register in a state with 26 million internal-combustion cars and light trucks. That’s what policymakers want to change.

California law calls for a new car market in which no internal combustion engines are available by 2035, an ambitious goal by any measure.

The idea is that older cars would gradually phase out with age, as they always have. New car buyers would find only zero-emission options. A few years later, those cars would create the first tier of a transitioning used-car market. At some point, the ubiquitous corner gas station would offer quick charges and hydrogen instead of unleaded and premium, products whose markets will have dissolved.

“No single technology is going to meet everybody’s needs”  — Andrew Martinez.

Meeting that goal means broadening the ZEV universe, not trying to pick a winner, say advocates and experts.

“You need both technologies to get to a zero-emission future. It’s imperative” said California Fuel Cell Partnership’s Keith Malone, who called a winner-takes-all approach “a false choice narrative.”

Andrew Martinez, a PhD at the California Air Resources Board, agreed.

“No single technology is going to meet everybody’s needs,”  Martinez said.

“We see this as an ‘and’ situation rather than an ‘either-or.’ We are going to need both to have the best chance of meeting our goals.”

“Our investment pales in comparison to investments being made in Europe and Asia.” — Teresa Cook

Lawmakers, moving toward a ZEV future, tagged more than $6 billion in next year’s budget for zero-emission targets. And there are federal dollars, too.

That’s good, but it’s going to take more money and a broader vision to reach the goal, said Teresa Cooke, a lobbyist who founded and is CEO of the California Hydrogen Coalition.

“We used to be a leader, but we are being outpaced,” she said. “Our investment pales in comparison to investments being made in Europe and Asia.”

Implementation details for California’s ZEV investment are still being ironed out. But in its initial stage, support for hydrogen technology was limited to trucks and heavy-duty vehicles, the market segment that poses the biggest weight-to-distance challenges for plug-in technology. A battery powerful enough to haul cargo from the Port of Los Angeles to an inland distribution center would take up a lot of space, which is essentially what trucking companies sell.

While ZEVs do not directly contribute to air pollution or greenhouse gas accumulation, they are still mostly carbon reliant. Plug-ins depend on an electric supply that is currently reliant on fossil fuel generators. And most of the hydrogen for fuel-cells is pulled from natural gas in a process that itself takes energy. But, even taken together, their impact is miniscule compared to that of the internal combustion engine.

Meanwhile, Sen. Newman and his informal Hydrogen Car Caucus continue to remind their colleagues that hydrogen has a role to play. The benefits far outweigh the inconveniences, they say. Even the occasional frozen nozzle – a band of ice made from water vapor in the air – isn’t really much of a problem.

Worth it and necessary, said Newman.

“We’ll never get there with just electric cars.”

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