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The golden spike: Completing a transcontinental network of hydrogen refueling stations in North America

In 1869, Leland Stanford completed the transcontinental railroad with a golden spike. The overland route transformed the West, connecting the United States. A similar moment nears for fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Private networks of hydrogen refueling stations (HRS) will soon allow FCEVs to drive coast-to-coast.

This conclusion surprises. The US Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) shows 54 public stations operating today. California contains 47. British Columbia comes in a distant second. In comparison, the AFDC reports over 150,000 gasoline stations.

However, the government data overlooks a private solution. Many indoor warehouses use fuel cells to power lift trucks owing to indoor air quality constraints*. Plug Power, a provider of hydrogen and fuel cell solutions, operates over 150 HRS at warehouses (see Figure 1).** A southern route requires only a few more stops using Plug Power's stations, assuming access is granted.

As with the railroad, government action could improve access. Capacity credits, incentives for third-party access, and other measures could encourage private networks to open their gates.

More stringent regulation will also drive change—by boosting the number of zero-emissions vehicles. Reductions in greenhouse gas, smog, and noise are on the slate for vehicle fleets across the United States.

A transition to FCEVs in long-haul trucking requires a HRS network that (when private stations are included) suddenly appears almost complete. Well-situated stations that connect the dots could be quite profitable—perhaps worthy of a golden spike.

*. For more information, see the IHS Markit Webinar Pickup power: Fuel-cell forklifts in North America.
**. For the complete data set, see the IHS Markit Hydrogen refueling station (HRS) tracker, January 2022.

Learn more about our Global Clean Energy Technology research here.

Posted 26 January 2022 by Alex Klaessig, Senior Director, Hydrogen and Renewable Gas Forum, S&P Global Commodity Insights and

Julia Wainwright, Sr. Climate and Sustainability Research Analyst, S&P Global Commodity Insights

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