13th July 2024

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Not too long ago I’ve been reviewing research associated to hydrogen trucking, because it’s one of many few locations the place critical transportation analysis organizations nonetheless maintain out hope for the power provider. I’ve checked out research from a number of nations in Europe and North America again so far as 2010 now.

Most not too long ago I’ve been a part of the peer-review group of a European research doing one other complete value of possession simulation throughout hydrogen, battery electrical and electrical highway programs, biofuels and diesel because the baseline. One factor that leapt out at me was that assumptions of upkeep of hydrogen automobiles appeared too low, with the research displaying it will barely be greater than battery electrical.

I used to be conscious of anecdotal proof of upper fleet upkeep prices and first ideas associated to excessive pressures, excessive temperature ranges, air purity necessities and the traits of hydrogen instructed it needs to be extra as properly. So I appeared for extra information.

California fleet upkeep reviews confirmed that hydrogen gas cell buses throughout three transit organizations and a mixed eight years of operation had upkeep prices over 50% increased than diesel buses on common for a similar distances traveled. Whereas researching and writing that up, I briefly questioned whether or not the advanced refueling stations had related upkeep challenges, however left that for an additional day. Immediately is seemingly that day.

After publication, a chemical engineer acquaintance informed me that upkeep prices have been often offered in complete value of possession research as being 3% of capital expenditure per 12 months, however that quotes from refuelers he had obtained whereas contemplating a 350 atmospheric strain refueling resolution have been indicating that it needs to be 10% of capital expenditures as an alternative. Sadly, he wasn’t in a position to share them.

Certain sufficient, once I went to have a look at the Worldwide Council on Clear Transportation’s assumptions about hydrogen refueling stations, I discovered this:

We assume the annual mounted operational value of upkeep and labor to be 4% of the system capital value, much like earlier research (Brynolf et al., 2018; Matute et al., 2019).

Anecdotally it seems that that is one other thumb on the size that advantages hydrogen truck refueling complete prices of possession that’s systemic. However is it truly true? Is there information that’s out there that the ICCT and others needs to be contemplating?

It took some time to trace down a supply, however but once more California and the US NREL got here by. I discovered a 2022 report, Subsequent Technology Hydrogen Station Evaluation, offered as a part of the DOE Hydrogen Program at an Annual Benefit Overview and Peer Analysis Assembly. It included six years of upkeep information on the gas cell pumps within the state. The information ended after Q2 of 2021, however that was ample to see a rise put up COVID and naturally there was pre-COVID information.

The information lined 55 retail stations, principally for gentle automobiles, pumping hydrogen at 700 atmospheres into Toyota Mirais, Hyundai Nexos and the like. Many have solely a single pump as a result of there’s no demand for extra. There have been additionally a few heavy automobile stations in there, however they weren’t cut up out individually, which is unlucky because the added complexity undoubtedly provides to the upkeep prices. 110 new stations that the state supposed to construct by no means materialized, and the present rely stays 55 a few years later.

Why added complexity? Properly, refueling pumps for gentle automobiles are gradual, allotting on common 0.93 kg of hydrogen per minute per the NREL report on precise charges, which means it takes about 5 minutes to refill a Toyota Mirai from empty. That compares to gasoline pumps which run at of 10 gallons per minute within the USA, with a gallon being the power equal of a kilogram of hydrogen. Gas cell automobiles are extra environment friendly than inner combustion automobiles, so it’s extra like ten gallons equal for a automotive in 5 minutes.

That is, after all, fully insufficient for heavy vans, which might require 50 to 100 kilograms or extra of hydrogen when refueling, resulting in refueling occasions longer than charging occasions for battery electrical vans, as much as 90 minutes. And it’s insufficient for mid-sized supply automobiles as properly, as a result of these gentle automobile stations are optimized to ship about 5 kilograms earlier than having to undergo a prolonged recompression cycle. That’s a part of the report from a research on a mid-sized supply van’s trial within the UK, the place refueling took 3 times as lengthy, about 15 minutes, simply to get 10 kilograms of hydrogen.

So a bunch of extra gear of upper grade and better value is added to heavy automobile refueling stations to make them considerably higher. Nonetheless not nice. NREL in a check setting has managed to approximate diesel pump charges with pressurized hydrogen, however that’s a bespoke check facility and there’s no assure that it will be remotely financial or commercializable.

Dispensed hydrogen and maintenance events for California's hydrogen refueling stations courtesy NREL
Allotted hydrogen and upkeep occasions for California’s hydrogen refueling stations courtesy NREL

The charts on web page eight of the report make it clear that there’s a powerful, moderately predictive, linear correlation between the quantity of hydrogen pumped and upkeep necessities, one thing that’s the identical as with gasoline station research I checked out. Pump 4 occasions as a lot hydrogen, do 4 occasions as a lot upkeep.

However they don’t make it clear how a lot upkeep hydrogen refueling stations required. That wanted math with numbers offered on totally different pages of the report.

The primary quantity was the kilograms of hydrogen pumped. I selected the primary half of 2021, six months of knowledge after COVID, when pumped hydrogen tonnages have been the best within the historical past of this system, and 5 years of enhancements to hydrogen pumps and operational excellence packages had time to run their course.

Throughout the 55 stations, 540,000 kilograms of hydrogen have been disbursed to the over 13,000 hydrogen automobiles in California. Sure, that US state has extra hydrogen automobiles on its roads than every other nation on this planet, together with China. However that’s nonetheless solely 236 automobiles per station on common.

Some stations have been allotting as a lot as 300 kilograms a day, which is to say, a tiny fraction of the variety of gallons of gasoline the typical pump delivers each day. After all, they took 10 occasions longer to ship these kilograms, so the stations look busier than they’re.

55 stations and 540,000 kilograms within the final two quarters of knowledge is barely 54 kilograms per station per day on common. Assuming Three kilograms — 60% — refueling per automobile, every station solely sees 18 automobiles a day. That implies that they’re refueling each 13 days on common. That implies that the typical gas cell automobile is being pushed about 15 miles a day, a good distance below the 37 miles per day common for the USA.

Over the identical interval, there have been 3,250 upkeep occasions recorded, between scheduled and unscheduled occasions, preventative upkeep and fixing issues that went improper. The report doesn’t have upkeep hours per occasion for that interval, however has the historic imply of 5 years of three.6 hours per occasion on one other web page.

Little or no math signifies that the 55 stations seem to have seen 11,700 hours of upkeep in six months, about 212 per station or about 1.2 hours a day. So far as I can inform, none of that is each day inspection and bolt tightening, however scheduled and unscheduled upkeep occasions which take the pump out of service. 27% of upkeep occasions took an hour or much less to deal with, with the median being a fairly excessive 2.5 hours and plenty of occasions taking on a dozen hours and even 24 to repair.

Is that top? It appeared so. I went to search for equal information for gasoline stations. I discovered a 2013 research, Evaluation and Scheduling of Upkeep Operations for a Chain of Fuel Stations, with information for 570 pumps in 40 stations. It discovered that medium failure stations had 0.002 failures per hour per dispenser. With a mean of 14 pumps per station, these weren’t low quantity dusty stations however very busy. I wasn’t in a position to decide if ‘hours’ was hours actively used or complete hours, however even an order of magnitude distinction wouldn’t be plenty of failures per hour.

The research was centered on imply time between failures requiring upkeep and the advantages of preventative upkeep, so it didn’t have length of upkeep actions, however made it clear that with common preventative upkeep, a station with 14 pumps noticed a failure each 550 hours or so, or any given pump simply sitting there and dealing for a 3rd of the 12 months with out greater than inspection, wiping and tightening of bolts.

So what does it appear like for California’s hydrogen refueling stations? Keep in mind, most of them have just one or two pumps on a gasoline station’s lot.

Properly, given the 0.93 kilograms common movement price, these stations appeared to require 3.6 hours of upkeep for each 46 kilograms of hydrogen that they pumped.

Whole upkeep hours — as soon as once more derived from acknowledged imply length and the variety of occasions however not acknowledged explicitly within the NREL report — was 11,700 hours over the 55 stations over the primary six months of 2021. 

Whole time pumping hydrogen on the 0.93 movement price was 9,677 hours.

California’s hydrogen refueling stations spent 2,000 extra hours being mounted and maintained than they spent pumping hydrogen within the first half of 2021.

If I had written this report, this primary discovering would have been entrance and heart in large screaming letters. As an alternative, I needed to dig arduous to search out it. However what about prices?

Provided that we’re coping with 700 environment pressures, equal to being over 4 miles below the floor of the ocean, we aren’t speaking low-cost technicians from Joe’s Fuel Station Upkeep.

On web page 14 of the report it publicizes, with out context, that the fee per upkeep was over $10,000 per station per quarter, or over $40,000 per 12 months. I dug into that additional and located their underlying information set which confirmed upkeep prices have been rising linearly with utilization, and utilization remained very low. The final 4 quarters of their information was displaying about $50,000 per station per 12 months.

For 2 quarters for the 55 stations then, the full expenditure was $1,375,000. That places the hourly value of upkeep at $118. 

How low is the utilization in comparison with gasoline stations? The common pump is designed to maneuver over 300,000 gallons a 12 months in regular utilization, about 900 gallons a day. The common gasoline station within the report on gasoline stations had 14 pumps, so over 10,000 gallons per day. The 300 kilograms per day for the largest hydrogen refueling station is a homeopathic quantity, with the very excessive capital prices, ranging between $1,200 and $3,000 per kilogram of hydrogen disbursed per day per a 2020 DOE Hydrogen Program report, not being amortized throughout plenty of kilograms.

That report indicated that stations being acquired have been able to 770 kg/day to 1,620 kg/day when the busiest stations in all of California have been simply hitting 300 kg. To be clear, the prevailing refueling stations have been able to delivering extra hydrogen, they only weren’t being known as upon to take action as a result of there are so few hydrogen automobiles they usually have been being pushed so little.

Let’s make some value assumptions. The research on hydrogen prices made it clear that prices had come down. Let’s assume that the prevailing 55 stations have been on the very excessive finish of the vary, $3,000 per kilogram of hydrogen disbursed. Let’s assumed that they have been sized for lots greater than they’re delivering, and clearly over 300 kilograms a day. Let’s assume the underside finish of the vary of 770 kg/day. That makes the capital prices of the typical station at $2.Three million, with 55 of them costing about $130 million.

The upkeep expense of 4% of capex means that they might be spending about $5 million per 12 months, however they’re solely spending $1,375,000 a 12 months. Appears good.

However they’re solely pumping 54 kilograms per station per day and because the information reveals, upkeep rises linearly with kilograms delivered. Scaling the 54 kilograms averaging to 770 kilograms means that the precise upkeep value if the stations have been operating at deliberate capability could be $20 million per 12 months.

That’s 15% of capex, not 4% of capex. And it’s not 10% of capex which is seemingly what hydrogen refueling station gross sales individuals are promising. Clearly what they’re doing in bids is making ready patrons for the even worse actuality of hydrogen refueling.

Let’s take a quick digression into Reference Class Forecasting. It’s the estimation methodology that Professor Bent Flyvbjerg and his workforce devised over the just about 30 years they’ve spent gathering information on megaprojects.

Right here’s RCF in a nutshell. Get all the information you possibly can concerning the factor you are attempting to do. Discover the typical. Use that in your estimations. In case you are constructing a bridge, get all the precise prices of bridges which have been constructed you could find. Common it out. Begin with that. Alter upward or downward solely in case you have a extremely sturdy cause to imagine you might be particular.

In case you’ve learn Flyvbjerg and co-author Dan Gardner’s e book, How Large Issues Get Performed, which is on each greatest enterprise books of 2023 checklist, usually on the prime, you’ve got examine RCF and how you can apply it. And for those who haven’t learn Large Issues, accomplish that now.

What does this imply for trucking complete value of possession research? If they’re costing the stations, and they need to, they need to value the upkeep at 15% of capex, not 4% of capex.

If I have been reporting the DOE annual assembly and had been presenting the report I discovered, this might have been just below the two,000 hours extra upkeep than pumping discovering, in even larger letters.

Okay, what number of excuses can we make for this information to clarify it away? That is in help of pre-loading the arguments.

#1: The expertise isn’t mature and issues will get higher! 

Hydrogen refueling stations have been being deployed globally for over 25 years, California has extra of them than every other nation, and that is the final couple of quarters of six years of knowledge, so there’s been time to ditch the lemons and optimize upkeep.

#2: Scaling up the precise upkeep prices isn’t honest!

The curve becoming on kilograms pumped vs upkeep occasions is linear from their very own information and supported by gasoline station pumping upkeep research. I gave them the advantage of the doubt on prices and capability to get right down to 15%. Preliminary numbers have been worse, so I’ve been triple checking and redoing them. Counsel a greater methodology and apply it to the information.

#3: This information is for gentle automobile stations and heavier automobile stations can be extra dependable!

No, the added complexity and necessities for high-speed hydrogen switch make it more durable to realize reliability, not much less. The chances are high that this 15% discovering is simply too low for vans. As a reminder the 10% anecdotal information was for 350 environment strain pumping programs..

#4: It doesn’t matter as a result of we’ll be utilizing liquid hydrogen as an alternative!

No, storing and pumping hydrogen at 20° above absolute zero is way more advanced than 700 environment strain gasoline. The challenges with thermal and strain administration are multiplied, as are the risks. Liquid hydrogen is so arduous to make use of that the area business is transferring to methane and away from liquid hydrogen.

#5: They’re simply falling aside as a result of nobody is utilizing them, and can be higher with extra use!

That doesn’t actually make a degree a hydrogen advocate actually needs to make, and see level #2.

#6: The information is dangerous, simply cooked up by the creator!

The information is all from NREL hydrogen program reviews about precise findings in precise hydrogen stations.

#7: I noticed an immaterial error, so am giving myself permission to invalidate the complete evaluation!

Don’t be that particular person.

#8: I don’t just like the outcomes!

In that case, you actually need to take a seat with this different article of mine — Seeing Local weather Options Clearly By way of Biases & Lacking Information Is Difficult — for some time and mirror in your life decisions.


So, to sum up, hydrogen refueling stations within the greatest public information set, protecting 55 stations over six years with tens of millions of kilograms of hydrogen having been delivered, present that hydrogen stations are out of service 20% extra time than they’re pumping hydrogen and that annual upkeep prices are 15% of capex, not 4%.

Do I count on the ICCT, Daimler, hydrogen refueling distributors and the US DOE to now begin utilizing 15%? No, I count on them to recreate the research I’ve simply achieved utilizing California’s information and extra actual information on capital expenditures, and give you a quantity that’s way more practical than 4%. Personally, I’m snug with 15% and can be utilizing it and recommending to teams I have interaction with that they use it.


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