Alliance launches to fund hydrogen projects in 13 states

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, October 18, 2020

Automakers and fuel-cell companies launched a new alliance last week to demonstrate and advocate for hydrogen trucks and buses in 13 Western states, in a bid to strengthen the technology’s hand against battery-powered vehicles.

The Western States Hydrogen Alliance, as it’s known, includes vehicle manufacturer Hyundai and fuel-cell systems producers Ballard Power Systems and Plug Power, as well as startups that want to demonstrate prototypes for hydrogen ships and aircraft.

The group says it will pool funds and find partners for those pilot projects and will lobby for state-level policies that could help encourage adoption of heavy-duty fuel-cell vehicles and their associated fueling infrastructure. It did not disclose a spending commitment.

It will also tap “strategic advice” from state legislators and regulators who sit on an advisory board, according to alliance spokesperson Jake Donahue.

“Tax breaks and creative things that can make it financially easier on the end user are usually implemented on the state level,” he said. “They’ll have a pretty good pulse on what’s going to work there [in their state], what’ll fly with the local community and with the state legislature politically.”

Across much of the United States, official policies have effectively anointed battery electrics as the key clean transportation technology, particularly for passenger vehicles. But the hydrogen industry sees an advantage for heavier classes of vehicle, given limitations around battery size and range.

Embattled hydrogen truck startup Nikola has been a leader in that space, luring billions in investment with its promises to become a Tesla-style company that can build out corridors of its own renewable-powered fuel stations and launch its clean trucks into the mainstream.

But several other major truck manufacturers, like Hyundai, have plans to make their own versions of hydrogen trucks, and federal researchers see the opportunity, too. This month, the Energy Department announced $50 million in new funding over five years for fuel-cell truck research, as part of a $112 million tranche for hydrogen technologies.

Oil and gas majors have also begun investing in fueling infrastructure. And earlier this month, France-based Total SE made a rare gesture of interest in backing hydrogen vehicles themselves, announcing an undisclosed sum for a New York-based supplier of fuel-cell powertrains.

The alliance plans to concentrate its work on the western United States because it has a handful of interstate highways that are heavily trafficked by freight vehicles and terminate at ports, creating a natural focus for infrastructure and vehicle deployment, said Donahue. California has already begun building out hydrogen stations, meaning other efforts could “branch out from the mother ship,” he said.

A sales mandate for zero-emissions trucks adopted by California over the summer would also apply to hydrogen varieties, giving them a potential source of new demand.

That could apply outside of California as well. Four of the states where the alliance plans to focus — Hawaii, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — have signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to adopt California’s mandate.

The other states of focus for the alliance are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Apart from Ballard, Plug Power and Hyundai, the alliance includes yard truck manufacturer Capacity Trucks, bus maker ElDorado National, hydrogen boat startup Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, and fueling and parts supplier the Protium Co.