Global energy giant Shell recently made headlines with its decision to close all of its hydrogen fueling stations for passenger cars in California. The move has resulted in the permanent closure of seven hydrogen stations due to supply complications and various market factors. This leaves hydrogen fuel cell car drivers in the state with 12% fewer fueling options. The implications of this decision are far-reaching, with potential implications for the future of hydrogen fuel cell passenger technology not only in California but across the United States.
Behind Shell’s decision
The decision to close all seven of Shell’s hydrogen fueling stations for passenger cars in California was largely driven by a combination of ‘supply complexities and other external market factors’. Notably, the company cited lack of demand as one of the major reasons for the move. In 2023, only 3,143 hydrogen-powered vehicles were registered, less than 1% of battery-electric cars during the same period.
Additionally, Shell was using filling station equipment supplied by Norway’s Nel, which is currently embroiled in a lawsuit filed by industrial gas company Iwatani. The lawsuit alleges major flaws in Nell’s H2Station range, further complicating the situation.
Challenging times for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
The closure of Shell’s hydrogen fueling stations in California is a significant blow to hydrogen fuel cell passenger technology in the state. This technology is struggling to gain popularity, with reports of supply problems and high fuel prices. By January 2024, only 18,000 hydrogen fuel cell cars had been sold or leased in California. The situation is not helped by the fact that hydrogen refueling stations suffer from serious reliability issues due to the nature of liquid hydrogen.
Furthermore, the future of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the United States is uncertain. More conventional batteries are outperforming fuel cells and hydrogen. Alternatives such as methanol fuel cells have been considered but encountered various problems. While the dangers of methanol are sometimes exaggerated, direct methanol fuel cells are currently too expensive to use in passenger cars. Therefore, the industry faces the challenge of reducing the cost of catalysts.
Shell’s future plans
Despite closing its hydrogen fueling stations for passenger cars, Shell is not abandoning hydrogen entirely. Instead, the company will continue to operate three H2 filling stations for heavy-duty vehicles in California. Additionally, Shell is expanding its EV charging network, signaling a continued commitment to low-carbon operations. However, the decision to scale back its hydrogen operations, particularly in the passenger car sector, raises concerns about the future of the hydrogen fuel cell car market in the US.
Finally, Shell’s decision to close its hydrogen fueling stations in California is an important development that could have far-reaching effects on the future of the hydrogen fuel cell passenger car market. While the company will continue to support hydrogen-fueled heavy goods vehicles, the future of hydrogen fuel cell technology for passenger vehicles remains uncertain.