On Earth Day, an Encouraging Step on Hydrogen Cars

It’s now possible to traverse California in a fuel-cell vehicle

To quote the lyrics of a famous Angeleno, “Today was a good day.” When O’Shea Jackson woke up on a beautiful Southern California Day in 1992, something seemed kind of odd—a California day without smog. Little did he know that automotive engineers began working that very year to help solve California’s smog problem once and for all. Fast forward 24 years to a small parking lot adjacent to the new Expo Line in Santa Monica, where the California Fuel Cell Partnership hosted a kickoff event for Mary’s Valley Rally—powered by the Fastest Molecule on Earth.

For those of you that have been following my blog series (i.e. my mom), you may recall that California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols and I recently met at a brand new hydrogen station in West L.A. (at a Chevron station at 11261 Santa Monica Blvd.) on a sunny Friday afternoon to chat about her new Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle and the wave of progress California has made in developing and opening hydrogen fueling stations. After we fueled up her car, we went for a drive and ultimately settled in at a local coffee shop to talk about the future of zero emission hydrogen vehicles in our state.

Somewhere along the way, we talked about how Mary was excited that she could now comfortably cover longer SoCal commutes while generating zero emissions, thanks to the extended range (commonly 300+ miles) of FCEVs, the fast refueling time and the steadily increasing availability of hydrogen fuel stations. At some point during that conversation I asked Mary if she’s tried to drive the new car to Sacramento and a light bulb went off.

Less than two months later, Mary returned to Santa Monica, this time accompanied by the rest of the A-Team of California’s Environmental leaders in state government, including California Energy Commissioner Janea Scott and my predecessor from Energy Independence Now, Tyson Eckerle in his current role as Deputy Director of ZEV Infrastructure, at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. They were joined by dedicated environmental leaders from various state, regional and local agencies including Santa Monica Mayor Tony Vazquez.

The group gathered in front of a fleet of FCEVs (including models from Mercedes, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai) as they prepared to lead a 400-mile rally from yet another new hydrogen station (1819 Cloverfield Blvd. in Santa Monica) to the State Capital in Sacramento (check out video below, courtesy of California Fuel Cell Partnership). The convoy would stop in the Central Valley to refuel and open another new hydrogen station at Harris Ranch in Coalinga that made the drive to Sacramento possible. While this isn’t the first time that an FCEV would make this journey, it is the first time that a California driver can walk into a dealership, drive an FCEV off the lot to a publicly accessible hydrogen station, fuel up the car in just a few minutes and take off for Northern California knowing they can stop along the way totop off the tank in just a few minutes. Now THAT is a really big deal.

California is dedicated to meeting its climate goals, to raising the environmental bar for the rest of the world (because that’s what California does) and to providing its citizens with the option of driving Zero Emission Vehicles—wherever they may want to go. The state is so dedicated that it is investing in the construction of the first 100 hydrogen stations, approximately 40 of which will be open by the end of this year.

As we celebrate Earth Day this year, let’s take a minute to acknowledge the environmental and transportation leaders providing solutions for drivers to avoid using fossil fuels and setting an example for our children, our communities, and the rest of the world. California just took a mighty big step towards providing drivers the option of driving the cleanest cars on the planet, powered by the fastest, cleanest molecule on earth. And that’s why I’ve got to say, it was a good day.

Brian Goldstein, is Executive Director of Energy Independence Now (EIN)—the only nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the FCEV marketplace. Based in Santa Monica, EIN has been one of California’s leading advocates and architects of the state’s Hydrogen Highway for over a decade and the organization is committed to ensuring that FCEVs play a leading role in California’s Zero Emission Vehicle future.

Fast Facts:

  • There are more than 300 fuel cell electric vehicles on the road in California today
  • ARB staff projects 6,650 fuel cell electric vehicles will be registered in the state in 2017, and 10,500 in 2018
  • As of April 2016, California has 15 retail hydrogen fueling stations, all opened since June 2015
  • Six future retail stations have finished construction and are in final development stages
  • Six additional future retail stations are under construction
  • Additional future retail stations are in various stages of development; up to 51 open retail stations will be in place in 2017

For more information please check out EINow.org or CaFCP.org