California’s Hydrogen Stations Being Fixed More Hours Than Pumping At 15% Capex Per Year

California’s Hydrogen Stations Being Fixed More Hours Than Pumping At 15% Capex Per Year

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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 severe transportation analysis organizations nonetheless maintain out hope for the vitality service. I’ve checked out research from a number of nations in Europe and North America again so far as 2010 now.

Most lately I’ve been a part of the peer-review group of a European research doing one other whole value of possession simulation throughout hydrogen, battery electrical and electrical highway methods, 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 might barely be greater than battery electrical.

I used to be conscious of anecdotal proof of upper fleet upkeep prices and first rules associated to excessive pressures, excessive temperature ranges, air purity necessities and the traits of hydrogen prompt it must be extra as effectively. So I seemed for extra knowledge.

California fleet upkeep experiences confirmed that hydrogen gasoline cell buses throughout three transit organizations and a mixed eight years of operation had upkeep prices over 50% higher than diesel buses on average for a similar distances traveled. Whereas researching and writing that up, I briefly puzzled whether or not the advanced refueling stations had related upkeep challenges, however left that for one more day. As we speak is outwardly that day.

After publication, a chemical engineer acquaintance advised me that upkeep prices have been often offered in whole 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 answer have been indicating that it must be 10% of capital expenditures as a substitute. Sadly, he wasn’t capable of share them.

Positive sufficient, after 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 fastened 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 dimensions that advantages hydrogen truck refueling whole prices of possession that’s systemic. However is it really true? Is there knowledge that’s out there that the ICCT and others must be contemplating?

It took some time to trace down a supply, however but once more California and the US NREL got here via. I discovered a 2022 report, Next Generation Hydrogen Station Analysis, offered as a part of the DOE Hydrogen Program at an Annual Benefit Overview and Peer Analysis Assembly. It included six years of upkeep knowledge on the gasoline cell pumps within the state. The info ended after Q2 of 2021, however that was adequate to see a rise publish COVID and naturally there was pre-COVID knowledge.

The info coated 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 meant to construct by no means materialized, and the present rely stays 55 a few years later.

Why added complexity? Effectively, refueling pumps for gentle automobiles are sluggish, meting out 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 vitality equal of a kilogram of hydrogen. Gas cell vehicles are extra environment friendly than inner combustion vehicles, so it’s extra like ten gallons equal for a automotive in 5 minutes.

That is, in fact, utterly insufficient for heavy vans, which might require 50 to 100 kilograms or extra of hydrogen when refueling, resulting in refueling instances longer than charging instances for battery electrical vans, as much as 90 minutes. And it’s insufficient for mid-sized supply automobiles as effectively, 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 delivery van’s trial within the UK, the place refueling took thrice as lengthy, about quarter-hour, simply to get 10 kilograms of hydrogen.

So a bunch of extra gear of upper grade and larger value is added to heavy automobile refueling stations to make them considerably higher. Nonetheless not nice. NREL in a check atmosphere has managed to approximate diesel pump charges with pressurized hydrogen, however that’s a bespoke check facility and there’s no assure that it might 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, fairly 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 instances as a lot hydrogen, do 4 instances 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 completely 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 applications had time to run their course.

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

Some stations have been meting out 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. In fact, they took 10 instances 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 3 kilograms — 60% — refueling per automobile, every station solely sees 18 automobiles a day. That signifies that they’re refueling each 13 days on common. That signifies that the typical gasoline cell automobile is being pushed about 15 miles a day, a great distance underneath 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 mistaken. 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 a number of occasions taking on a dozen hours and even 24 to repair.

Is that prime? It appeared so. I went to search for equal knowledge for gasoline stations. I discovered a 2013 research, Analysis and Scheduling of Maintenance Operations for a Chain of Gas Stations, with knowledge 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 capable of decide if ‘hours’ was hours actively used or whole hours, however even an order of magnitude distinction wouldn’t be a number of failures per hour.

The research was targeted 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 seem 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.

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

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

Complete time pumping hydrogen on the 0.93 move price was 9,677 hours.

California’s hydrogen refueling stations spent 2,000 extra hours being fastened 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 huge screaming letters. As a substitute, I needed to dig onerous to search out it. However what about prices?

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

On web page 14 of the report it proclaims, with out context, that the associated 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 knowledge set which confirmed upkeep prices have been rising linearly with utilization, and utilization remained very low. The final 4 quarters of their knowledge was displaying about $50,000 per station per 12 months.

For 2 quarters for the 55 stations then, the overall 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 most important hydrogen refueling station is a homeopathic quantity, with the very excessive capital prices, ranging between $1,200 and $3,000 per kilogram of hydrogen distributed per day per a 2020 DOE Hydrogen Program report, not being amortized throughout a number 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 present refueling stations have been able to delivering extra hydrogen, they simply weren’t being referred to as upon to take action as a result of there are so few hydrogen automobiles and so they 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 present 55 stations have been on the very excessive finish of the vary, $3,000 per kilogram of hydrogen distributed. 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 $2.3 million, with 55 of them costing about $130 million.

The upkeep expense of 4% of capex means that they’d 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 knowledge exhibits, 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 working at deliberate capability can be $20 million per 12 months.

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

Let’s take a quick digression into Reference Class Forecasting. It’s the estimation technique that Professor Bent Flyvbjerg and his staff devised over the virtually 30 years they’ve spent gathering knowledge on megaprojects.

Right here’s RCF in a nutshell. Get all the info you possibly can in regards to the factor you are attempting to do. Discover the typical. Use that in your estimations. If you’re constructing a bridge, get the entire precise prices of bridges which have been constructed you will discover. Common it out. Begin with that. Alter upward or downward solely if in case you have a very sturdy cause to imagine you’re particular.

For those who’ve learn Flyvbjerg and co-author Dan Gardner’s guide, How Big Things Get Done, which is on each finest enterprise books of 2023 record, typically on the high, you will have examine RCF and apply it. And when you haven’t learn Huge Issues, accomplish that now.

What does this imply for trucking whole 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 may have been just below the two,000 hours extra upkeep than pumping discovering, in even greater letters.

Okay, what number of excuses can we make for this knowledge 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 some 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 knowledge and supported by gasoline station pumping upkeep research. I gave them the advantage of the doubt on prices and capability to get down to fifteen%. Preliminary numbers have been worse, so I’ve been triple checking and redoing them. Counsel a greater methodology and apply it to the info.

#3: This knowledge is for gentle automobile stations and heavier automobile stations will probably be extra dependable!

No, the added complexity and necessities for high-speed hydrogen switch make it tougher to attain reliability, not much less. The chances are high that this 15% discovering is simply too low for vans. As a reminder the ten% anecdotal knowledge was for 350 environment strain pumping methods..

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

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 onerous to make use of that the house business is shifting to methane and away from liquid hydrogen.

#5: They’re simply falling aside as a result of nobody is utilizing them, and will probably 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 info is dangerous, simply cooked up by the writer!

The info is all from NREL hydrogen program experiences about precise findings in precise gasoline stations.

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

Don’t be that individual.

#8: I don’t just like the outcomes!

In that case, you actually need to sit down with this different article of mine — Seeing Climate Solutions Clearly Through Biases & Missing Data Is Challenging — for some time and mirror in your life selections.


So, to sum up, hydrogen refueling stations within the greatest public knowledge set, protecting 55 stations over six years with hundreds of thousands 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 anticipate the ICCT, Daimler, hydrogen refueling distributors and the US DOE to now begin utilizing 15%? No, I anticipate them to recreate the research I’ve simply executed utilizing California’s knowledge and extra actual knowledge on capital expenditures, and provide you with a quantity that’s way more lifelike than 4%. Personally, I’m snug with 15% and will probably be utilizing it and recommending to teams I have interaction with that they use it.


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Alex Lorel

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