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From the Driver's Seat - Fill'er Up

The fuel gauge in the Toyota fuel cell vehicle shows me how full the tank is and the expected range from the remaining fuel. When I’m running low, it’s time to head to the station.

Fueling with hydrogen is similar to fueling with CNGCompressed Natural Gas. You’re putting a compressed, gaseous fuel into a strong, sealed tank. Like CNG, hydrogen can be sold by the unit (kilogram), but not until the California Division of Measurement Standards approves a dispenser. For the time being, we pay for fuel by the fill.

Filling up a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is pretty easy. I activate the dispenser by typing in my PIN, which identifies me as a trained user, and then I connect the nozzle.  At the West Sacramento station, we currently have one pressure of fuel, 35MPa. The fueling nozzle looks like a small barrel that I place over a receptacle on the FCEV. Once I connect the nozzle, a hydrogen-tight seal is formed and the fuel starts to flow.

Filling the tank sounds like putting air in a tire and takes 3-10 minutes. When the tank is full, the dispenser shuts off. I unhook the nozzle, turn off the dispenser and close the fuel door. 

What are the differences between filling with hydrogen and filling with gasoline? Hydrogen is an environmentally benign fuel delivered in a closed-loop system. Nothing drips, spills or smells. I don’t get it on my hands or shoes.

It’s unlikely that any hydrogen would escape, but hydrogen will very rapidly disburse if it does get loose. The concrete pad around the West Sacramento station is 12 years old, yet looks new. No spills from caustic, slippery liquid fuels or crankcase oil. Hydrogen fueling is safe enough to do inside, too, which is where businesses fill their fuel cell forklifts.

Hydrogen fueling is fast, safe and easy to do. We just need more places to fill!