Simanaitis Says

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FCEVS—TODAY AND TOMORROW PART 2

YESTERDAY IN PART 1 we began reporting on experience with the first-generation Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle that’s briefly residing in the SimanaitisSays fleet. This car is about to become something of a tech classic, what with the 2021 second-generation Mirai scheduled for introduction later in 2020. Today in Part 2, we recount the history of hydrogen refueling in our part of the world, namely at the University of California Irvine Refueling Station. Tomorrow in Part 3, we’ll combine the two topics by touring around and topping up “our” Mirai before returning it to Toyota.

My source for today’s tidbits.

GEN I Station. In 2003, the National Fuel Cell Research Center at UCI established the first U.S. publicly accessible hydrogen refueling station. Funded by Toyota, GEN I had equipment designed by Air Products & Chemicals. The station’s modest 2-fill/day capacity was at a fueling pressure of 350 bar (a tad less than 5100 psi). 

Gaseous hydrogen was supplied from a 280-kg-capacity tube trailer located on-site. In fact, a rather larger trailer of this sort was part of Toyota’s 2007 2300-mile FCEV Fairbanks to Vancouver expedition; I was the journalist driver. 

Back in 2007 our 2300-mile trip in a Toyota Fuel Cell Highlander covered the Alaska Highway. A week later, I drove another one 436 miles on a single fill, from Las Vegas to San Diego.

UCI’s GEN I refueling station was surrounded by ten-ft.-high security fencing. Those refueling cars were required to wear personal protective gear. A total of 76 fills were accomplished before a station upgrade to GEN II in September 2003. 

GEN II. This second-generation station, also Toyota-funded, had slightly enhanced fill capability and a more space-efficient trailer supply. Its dispenser was upgraded to a gasoline-refill appearance. GEN II delivered hundreds of fills before it was retired in June 2006. 

I don’t recall my first visit to UCI refueling, but suspect it was during this period.

GEN III. The revamped UCI refueling station, opened in November 2006, had multiple funding from California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, the U.S. Department of Energy, Toyota, Honda, and BMW. It was the first in California to feature both 350-bar and 700-bar refueling.

Unlike the first two, GEN III had liquid, not gaseous, on-site storage of hydrogen. It was designed to look like a conventional retail gas station, with dispensing island and canopy. PPE dress and the 10-ft. security fence had become quaint history. 

GEN III supported the UCI NFCRC fleet as well as test cars from Toyota, GM, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Mazda. It had more than 18,000 fills before GEN IV operation began in November 2015.

UCI GEN III hydrogen refueling station. Image by Paul Kennedy from Bridging: Engineering Science to Practical Application. “Healing the Air,” Annual Report, Volume 8 2020.

GEN III is the UCI refueling station that I knew best. 

GEN IV. This most recent one features infrared wireless communication (which replaces a wired link) between car and station for its 700-bar fills. In addition to retail sales with POS (point-of-sale) payment capability, it also serves two hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, the UCI student “Anteater Express” and one operated by the Orange County Transportation Authority. 

UCI Hydrogen Refueling Station yearly activity, 2007–2019.

On average, GEN IV has had more than 100 vehicles and often two bus refuelings each day.

GEN V. Plans are underway for a fifth-generation hydrogen refueling station at UCI, this one perhaps in operation by late 2021. It’s to be built on a greenfield site on campus at California Avenue and Academy Way, across from the Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences & Engineering. The GEN V facility will have two dispensers and four refueling positions.

Tomorrow in Part 3, I’ll describe my borrowed Toyota Mirai touring Southern California’s Orange County and refueling at UCI GEN IV. ds   

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

4 comments on “FCEVS—TODAY AND TOMORROW PART 2

  1. carmacarcounselor
    October 4, 2020

    I presume in your next report you will tell us how the hydrogen is generated. IMHO hydrogen as a vehicle (or aircraft) fuel will only be sustainable when it is produced by electrolysis of H2O powered by solar or wind energy.

    • simanaitissays
      October 4, 2020

      Agreed, that is the long-term optimum. Today, though, it’s still derived largely from fossil sources.

      • Mike B
        October 6, 2020

        AFAIK all industrial hydrogen is produced by reforming something, usually natural gas. Of course, you’re burning some of the natural gas to produce the heat and electricity to power the reforming process. Plus, cracking CH4 to produce hydrogen releases the C as CO2. Oh well.

        Interesting thing is that fuel cells can be run backward to produce hydrogen from water, just like electrolysis. Does require energy, of course, so where does that come from? Plus whatever energy is needed for compression and/or liquefaction. Bottom line is that batteries, while less effective as dense, lightweight energy storage, are more efficient (less energy loss in the process). Tradeoffs (as were discussed in today’s Frazz cartoon (6Oct2020).

  2. simanaitissays
    October 6, 2020

    Points well made, Mike. However, I tend to the views of Burns, Borroni-Bird, and Mitchell (see www.http://wp.me/p2ETap-3kp): With EVs, they suggest that each of BEVs and FCEVS has a sweet-spot niche.

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