Fuel Cell

What's the life of the fuel cells in a car?

Generally, automakers of cars, buses and trucks aim for a fuel cell stack (aka the power plant) lifetime that matches the longevity of a typical vehicle engine in that category.

For example, many automakers of passenger cars aim for a fuel cell stack lifespan of at least 5,000 hours or approximately 150,000-200,000 miles. In the heavy-duty category, many bus fuel cell stacks (power plant) have reached lifetimes of 20,000 hours and more, with a goal of 30,000 hours by 2030. We anticipate trucks’ fuel cell power plants will perform in a similar manner.

How does a fuel cell work?

A fuel cell has an anode, a cathode and a membrane coated with a catalyst. The membrane is the electrolyte. The reactants (hydrogen and oxygen) are stored externally. Hydrogen enters the anode side of the fuel cell and oxygen enters from the cathode side. When the hydrogen molecules come into contact with the catalyst, a chemical reaction converts the energy stored in the hydrogen into an electric current. A fuel cell will create a current as long as it has fuel. When the fuel supply is shut off, the reaction stops and therefore, so does the current. Fuel cells grouped together are described as a fuel cell stack or, simply, a stack. 

What kinds of transportation use fuel cells?

Fuel cells can be used in a variety of mobility and stationary power applications. In mobility, fuel cells are already being used commercially, or being developed and demonstrated, in drones, forklifts, buses, delivery trucks, heavy-duty trucks, marine vessels, trains, etc.  Visit our Buses & Trucks, News and Resouces Database sections to learn more about these various vehicle categories and the work being done with fuel cells and hydrogen.

What's the difference between a fuel cell electric and battery electric vehicle?

With a battery electric car, you plug in and charge the battery. With a fuel cell car, the electricity is made on board, using hydrogen (from the tank) and oxygen (from the air). The fuel cells are designed to take advantage of the attraction between these molecules and produce electricity. Filling up takes less than five minutes, usually at a gas station. With a battery electric, you can charge in a variety of locations, including at home.


What can the public do to help build the infrastructure faster?

It's very simple: call or email your elected officials at the city, county, state and federal levels. Let them know you want to see more hydrogen fueling infrastructure. If they have questions or want to learn more, we at CaFCP are more than happy to talk with them or put them in touch with others who can answer them.

How much of the hydrogen at stations is renewable or zero carbon?

Here in California and around the world, hydrogen is on a renewable pathway. Like the electrical grid, hydrogen will likely achieve renewable content by milestones established by law and regulation. Currently, all publicly funded hydrogen stations must dispense hydrogen fuel with at least a renewable content of 33 percent. It should be noted that this requirement must be met by renewable resources in excess of those already being placed on the electric grid. Once the network dispenses more than 3.5 million kilograms in one year (projected to happen in the near future), the requirement also applies to stations that do not receive public funds.With the new capacity credit in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, qualifying stations must comply with a 40 percent renewable content. Many of the stations in California's network already have a renewable content of up to 100%. California stakeholders are currently working on legislative language to put hydrogen on the path to 100 percent renewable and zero-carbon content, similar to what was done with the electrical grid.

Are there stations outside of California?

Retail stations are being developed by Air Liquide in partnership with Toyota in the U.S. Northeast. The hydrogen stations in the Northeast (Northern New Jersey to Connecticut and Massachusetts) will open once a sufficient number are ready to support fuel cell electric vehicles, enabling a regional network and travel across key Northeast states. Retail stations are also being developed in the great Vancouver area, British Columbia, and we are beginning to see preliminary efforts to open light-duty stations in Oregon and Washington.

What is the difference between H35 vs H70?

Hydrogen is dispensed as a pressurized gas, and the numbers (H70, H35) refer to the pressure at which hydrogen is dispensed. The H70 designation indicates a dispensing pressure of 70 Megapascals (MPa) or approximately 10,000 psi.  H35 indicates a dispensing pressure of 35 MPa or approximately 5,000 psi.

Today’s hydrogen fuel cell electric passenger cars have H70 fueling systems, and can be fueled with either nozzle, H70 or H35, the difference being, H35 will result in a partial fill, due to the lower pressure.  Cars built with H35 fueling systems (which tend to be older vehicles) can only utilize the H35 nozzle and are not compatible with H70 nozzles.

Buses have fuel systems rated to 35MPa and so can only use an H35 nozzle. At the moment, medium- and heavy-duty trucks utilize both pressures, but many stakeholders expect that H70 – and perhaps H50 (50MPa or approximately 7,250 psi) – will be the likely pressures utilized in the near future.

How can I find a station in my area?

In California, you can find stations by using our map at www.cafcp.org/stationmap. Select the filter and you can choose what type of station (car, bus, truck) as well as those that are open, in development or proposed. If you want to look more closely at the stations in development, you can review the the H2 Stations List on CaFCP's Resources page at www.cafcp.org/resources. This document is updated monthly.

How much does it cost to build a H2 station?

In the past, the cost of many passenger vehicle hydrogen stations ranged between $2-to-$3 million, but station developers are beginning seeing lower per-kilogram costs, due to several factors, including an increase in the number of stations being built, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard fuel and capacity credits, among others. An example of these reductions in cost are the newest stations coming online that are as much as six times the size of the earliest stations and price reductions at the pump of as much as 20 to 25 percent.

Where do I fill up an FCEV?

In California, you can find stations by using our map. Select the filter and you can choose what type of station (car, bus, truck) as well as those that are open, in development or proposed.

Where is the funding coming from to build H2 stations?

Funding for hydrogen stations comes from a mix private and public sources. In California, much of the public funding for light-duty stations has come from the California Energy Commission. Other programs, such as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, help in encouraging the development of low carbon fuels and stations. In a relatively short time, we have seen the cost of stations drop and the percentage of private investment increase significantly.


How can I learn more?

There are a number of ways to educate yourself about fuel cells and hydrogen. The CaFCP website provides a lot of information - take a look at our news page, station map and other pages.

In particular, we encourage you to take a look at the CaFCP resources database. We regularly update it with studies, reports, facts, videos and other resources that we find. In fact, we use it quite a bit for our own work, so we make every effort to find relevant information on hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.  

You can also learn more about fuel cell and hydrogen activity across the globe by following CaFCP on several social media platforms, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.  

What is the California Fuel Cell Partnership?

The Califonria Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP) is an industry-government collaboration formed in 1999 to commercialize fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen. Learn more about us and our members.


Does it take a lot of water to make hydrogen via electrolysis?

It doesn't. Our colleagues at Hydrogen Europe have put together three fact sheets on hydrogen, and the facts and myths about making hydrogen from water. 

How is hydrogen made?

Hydrogen can made in several ways. The two most commonly known ways are steam method reformation (SMR) (using natural gas or renewable natural gas, from sources like sewage, trash and agricultural waste) and electrolysis (splitting water using electricity). The U.S. Department of Energy offers a good explanation about SMR and electrolysis.  

What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the first element in the periodic table. It is also the simplest element, with one proton and one electron.

Hydrogen is also the lightest element.  With an atomic weight of 1.008, it is 14 times lighter than air. Compare this to   gasoline vapor, which is four times heavier than air.
Hydrogen is also colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, and non-poisonous.

Hydrogen has been used around the world for a variety of industrial uses for more than 50 years. Codes, standards, and design practices have been developed to enable its safe use.

When used in a fuel cell, hydrogen generates no emissions - only water and heat. Hydrogen can be produced entirely from domestic and renewable sources.

Sources: H2Tools, U.S. Department of Energy, Center for Hydrogen Safety


Are fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen safe?

The short (and long) answer is yes. FCEVs are as safe as any vehicle on the road. CaFCP vehicle manufacturer members subject fuel cell electric vehicle models to extensive safety testing prior to releasing them on public roads, as they do for all vehicles. Current testing employs both destructive and non-destructive evaluations and occurs at the component, system, and vehicle level. For a more thorough answer about hydrogen safety (cars, hydrogen and stations), our colleagues at the Center for Hydrogen Safety (of which CaFCP is a member) developed this fact sheet about safety and vehicles, fuel and stations.

Fuel Cell Electric Cars

How much does it cost to fill up a fuel cell car?

The average price of hydrogen for a light-duty fuel cell electric vehicle (passenger car) in California is $16.51 per kilogram, according to the 2019 Joint Agency Report (p17). As more retail stations open and have higher utilization, the price per kilogram of hydrogen is projected to drop to ranges more competitive with the prices of gasoline. For example, in late 2019, the True Zero Oakland hydrogen station opened with three times the capacity of previous stations. It offers hydrogen at $13.11 per kilogram (tax included) due, in part, to the larger volume and other factors.

In addition, drivers of fuel cell electric cars are offered free fuel by automakers for three years, to bridge the time it takes the market to become more competitive with other fuel options.

Reports, studies, and white papers from the Hydrogen Council, NREL and Shell, among others, all point to reductions in the price of fuel and fueling infrastructure for various reasons (scaling up, standardization, etc.).

Hydrogen Council: Path to Hydrogen Competitiveness: A Cost Perspective
Shell: Hydrogen Refueling Station Cost Reduction Roadmap
Shell: Towards Competitive Refueling Infrastructure
NREL: Manufacturing competitiveness analysis for hydrogen refueling stations
BloombergNEF: Hydrogen Economy Outlook Key Messages

Please note: The information above pertains to hydrogen stations serving light-duty fuel cell electric vehicles (passenger cars) and, therefore, does not reflect the cost or price of hydrogen for buses, trucks or any other fuel cell electric vehicle category.

Where can I buy one?

The Honda Clarity fuel cell can be leased, and the Hyundai NEXO and Toyota Mirai can be leased AND purchased. Automakers have selected particular dealerships across California to lease or sell vehicles.

What is the range of a fuel cell electric car?

The Honda Clarity fuel cell offers an EPA estimated range of 366 miles. A Hyundai NEXO, 380 miles. The first-generation Toyota get 312 miles, and the second-generation Mirai is expected to get thirty percent longer range than the original. Of course, mileage varies based on driver performance.

What kind of incentives can I get when I purchase or lease a fuel cell electric car?

Several incentives are offered to those who purchase or lease a Honda Clarity, Hyundai NEXO or Toyota Mirai. Depending on income, drivers may receive a rebate check of $4,500 to $7,000 and an HOV lane sticker.  To learn more, vist the Consumer Vehicle Rebate Project. https://cleanvehiclerebate.org/eng

Makes and Models

Which is better, a plug-in electric (battery) or fuel cell electric vehicle?

Both technologies offer many benefits to consumers and industry, no matter the vehicle category. The choice of a vehicle(s) will likey be based on a number of factors, including range, size, operational case and more. Many of CaFCP's members work on both zero-emission pathways, battery and fuel cell. Embedded in our organizational DNA is the recognition that achieving a zero-emission future requires both technologies.

Environment benefits

What are the environmental benefits of a FCEV?

Like any electric drive vehicle, fuel cell electric vehicles produce zero emissions at the tailpipe, water vapor and droplets being the only output. Learn more about environmental benefits here