If hydrogen fuel cell cars are to become an actual reality on the roads of the United States, one of the places they are most likely to first take off in is California. With a projected 2015 mass production date given by several auto manufacturers, the question becomes: will the Golden State be ready with refueling stations for those driving these cars? That’s what a recent report from the California Fuel Cell Partnership aims to find out.

In this report, according to Fuel Cell Today, the biggest obstacle facing the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) market in California is the lack of a critical mass of hydrogen fueling stations [which are associated with prohibitive cost and questionable reliability -- Ed.]. Limited infrastructure equals very few people wanting to buy the cars, regardless of range, right? To counter this situation, stakeholders from industry, academia, non-governmental organizations and government agencies have put their heads together to determine what number of stations should be in place (and where they should be located) by the beginning of 2016 to help promote the growth of this developing market segment of green cars.

The 'magic bullet' number of strategically placed stations, developed by the previously mentioned brain-trust meet-up, is 68. Most of these stations will need to be clustered in five specific regions of the state where early adopters are expected to be driving the FCEVs. These regions include Santa Monica/West Los Angeles; coastal Southern Orange County; Torrance with nearby cities; Berkeley and the San Francisco South Bay area.

Additionally, it was determined that other stations will be needed to connect these clusters into a regional network. Some stations in these clusters already exist, and more are planned, but the majority will still have to be built.

It is understood by those involved in developing this framework that the first stations will be not used at their fullest potential and likely will lose money in the early years until vehicle sales increase to a level of critical mass sufficient to help cover costs associated with this infrastructure build-out. Two different models proposed to help get the estimated funding for the early days of FCEV fueling stations suggest costs will run somewhere between $65 million and $67 million.

As of June 2012, eight different automakers were testing FCEVs in California. In addition, three transit agencies are making use of FCEV buses. At the moment, two of the leaders in the development of these types of vehicles for consumers look to be Hyundai and Toyota, which are both aiming for 2015 deployments in larger numbers beyond current test fleets.


Editor's note: This article is reposted in its original form from EarthTechling. Author credit goes to Nino Marchetti.