First H2 Trip Between Los Angeles and San Francisco Conveniently Ignores Tesla Supercharger Network

How easy is it to make a long-distance trip in an electric car? Of course, the answer to that question depends on the electric car you’re driving.

Take a Nissan LEAF for example, and a long-distance trip is only possible if you happen to live in an area with well-placed CHAdeMO infrastructure — like the I-5 through the state of Oregon up to Washington’s border with Canada or the well-supported free-to-use Ecotricity network in the UK.

Hydrogen highway: you can now drive from LA to SF in a hydrogen fuel cell car.

Hydrogen highway: you can now drive from LA to SF in a hydrogen fuel cell car.

As a consequence the limitations of electric vehicle public charging and limited range are often cited by hydrogen fuel cell advocates as being a reason buyers should opt for hydrogen fuel cell technology over electric vehicles. But while their claims are true of more affordable plug-in cars the same can’t be said of a car like the Tesla Model S, a car which can easily travel long-distance thanks to the Supercharging network.

Conveniently too, the Tesla Model S starts at the same kind of price as the various limited-production hydrogen fuel cell cars on sale today, which we think makes it a fair apples-to-apples comparison for any hydrogen fuel cell vehicle when discussing long-distance trips. But earlier this week when Mercedes-Benz released a press release celebrating a trip made by a handful of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back, the only quote from a hydrogen fuel cell owner was one which was certainly not fair to electric vehicles.

The trip took in all the sights you'd expect.

The trip took in all the sights you’d expect.

Last week, five Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles and their owners took three days to travel the round trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Coinciding with the opening of a new public hydrogen filling station in Coalinga, making trips by hydrogen fuel cell vehicle between the two cities possible for the first time, the trip was a celebration of hydrogen fuel cell technology and the simple fact that Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell customers could now venture “beyond Southern California… for the very first time.”

The route — which followed a less-than-direct course from Los Angeles to San Francisco via Burbank, Coalinga, West Sacramento and finally Emeryville, totalled some 475 miles each way, equivalent to around 7.5 hours of driving. Add in a claimed 3.5 minutes for refuelling at each of the hydrogen filling stations along the way and regular restroom and food breaks, and you’re left with an easily-accomplished 12-hour trip.

Naturally, with the addition of the required press-calls en-route, this particular trip took a little longer, with the total round-trip taking a total of three days. As any Tesla Model S owner will tell you, following the same route in a Tesla Model S would result in the same trip taking a similar amount of time, thanks to a choice of six or seven different Supercharger sites along the route.

Enroll in Tesla’s battery swap program (and pay to swap your battery out for a different one at the Harris Ranch in California) and the trip could be made in even less time. As with the B-Class F-Cell trip, anyone determined enough could make the round trip within two days, especially if they have a codriver on-board.

What’s more, that trip has been possible in a Supercharger-enabled Model S since early 2013. Since October 2013, it’s been possible to even drive a Tesla Model S the entire length of the I-5 corridor from Mexico to Canada using just Supercharger stations.

Yet Tesla’s Supercharger network is ignored in Mercedes-Benz’s press release. Instead, owners are quoted as being glad they aren’t restricted by limited range and refuelling opportunities.

“I don’t want a car that only takes me to work and back before I have to plug it in,” said Early F-Cell adopter Loki Efaw who has been driving a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle since 2011. “I want a car that I can drive and drive. And the refuelling only takes a few minutes. That’s how it should be and that’s why a successive build up of hydrogen stations is absolutely necessary.”

The trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles is easy with a Model S (Photo: G.Parrott, via. GCR)

The trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles is easy with a Model S (Photo: G.Parrott, via. GCR)

While we’re glad to see that hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is now in place to enable hydrogen fuel cell trips between Los Angeles and California and a total of 40 public refuelling stations are due to join the existing ten in the region next year, we think it’s a little disingenuous to compare expensive hydrogen fuel cell cars — and even more expensive refuelling stations — to regular, limited-range electric cars.

Here at Transport Evolved, we think there’s no silver bullet when it comes to finding a transportation solution which works for everyone. As such, we’re happy to see both electric and hydrogen fuel cell technology develop side by side, and welcome any technology which helps lower the overall carbon footprint and vehicular emissions of our roads today.

But unless both sides can play fair, it’s going to be a tough journey for both electric and hydrogen advocates.


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  • vdiv

    “While we’re glad to see that hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is now in place to enable hydrogen fuel cell trips…”

    We are?! Why?

    • Because it’s all about choice 🙂 My personal choice is electric, but I acknowledge that not everyone wants to make that choice. Let free market policies decide 😉

      • vdiv

        Well, unfortunately making certain choices affects more thank just us and as members of society we have a little bit of responsibility in making the right ones. Someone driving a cheating diesel will say that they have that choice too, and yet it is being taken away from them because it is harmful to all of us

      • Joe Viocoe

        Problem is the free market isn’t paying for the hydrogen stations… It’s public money.

        • Joseph Dubeau

          “It’s public money.” So are government subsidies for BEV.

          Without Government Subsidy, Electric Car Sales Crash in Georgia

          • Joe Viocoe

            BIG DIFFERENCE.

            A subsidy like a tax credit or tax rebate is a small fraction of the car purchase… and only happens when a person drives away in a Zero Emissions Vehicle… thereby guaranteeing a reduction in emissions and petroleum consumption.

            But H2 fueling infrastructure, is millions of dollars for each… and is the majority of the funding for each station.
            And then there is no guarantee that anyone will be buying Hydrogen and using it to displace gasoline or diesel.

      • Chris O

        I’m all for letting free markets decide which technology works best but what worries me is that the hydrogen lobby most certainly has no intention of leaving acceptance of this boondoggle to market forces. Instead it works closely with government agencies in a clear effort to direct policies away from plug-ins and towards hydrogen. Massive amounts of taxpayer money are used to pay for an illusion of relatively affordable hydrogen powered transport hiding the fact that in reality it’s nowhere near ready for prime time and probably never will be while plug-ins are right on the threshold.

        The distorted facts in Mercedes’ press release are typical for the disingenuous way hydrogen is forced upon the market. It’s just impossible to make a case for hydrogen without resorting to lies.

    • Michael Thwaite

      I worry a lot about the mis-information around H2 – this notion that it’s free to be plucked out of the air drives be insane! I’m fearful that some may take the adverts on face value.

      That said, I think that the more that’s published about H2, on a level playing field, side-by-side with the alternatives, the more it’s going to reveal its true self. Does that make sense?

      • vdiv

        You have too much faith in people 🙂

  • kart

    There was a time when Hydrogen fuel cells would have been a game changer and a revolutionary tech in transportation and that would have been 25-50 years ago. Now its too little too late. We already have a better more efficient way to commute. Battery electric/supercap electric is the way to go. Leave hydrogen to be used in grid scale storage and may be commercial transportation applications. Using it for personal mobility at this point in time makes no sense.

    I came across an article a while ago where for a graph indicating various battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars and how far they all could travel for the same amount of energy was discussed. (I wish i had bookmarked it!! Dang me!!) The Tesla was among the toppers the Toyota Mirai was pretty much towards the bottom. And the delta was considerably big. That says a lot. 🙂

    • Chris O

      This infographic shows the relative efficiency of hydrogen produced through electrolysis vs battery electrics:

      As a rule of thumb a car will run triple the distance on electricity used to charge its batteries than on the same amount of electricity used to make hydrogen and store it in a car at 10,000 psi. (It takes 68KWh to make one KG of hydrogen through hydrolysis and dispense it at 10,000psi)

  • Hydrogen used with a fuel-cell is just an energy storage material. This is equivalent to using a non-rechargeable battery battery and buying new battery (material) to replenish energy capacity.

    The big debate for hydrogen centers on how it is sourced as it doesn’t natural exist in pure form. In California, 35% H2 !legally needs to be source from renewable energy sources. The secondary debate center on the economics of using hydrogen as a storage medium. We’ll have to see how this plays out, and if forecast price reductions with scale materializes materializes.

    • Joe Viocoe

      It is 33% renewable… and only for H2 stations that are publicly funded. Privately funded H2 stations do NOT have to meet any renewable source requirements until there about 18,000 – 20,000 FCVs driving around in California alone. That won’t happen for another decade. And even then…. there is a whole menu of exemptions that H2 producers can get to avoid the requirement.

      It is a pre-neutered law that the Hydrogen Lobby signed off on, so they can appear green from the start, while keeping their ability to use the cheapest source for Hydrogen, Natural Gas.

  • The 475 mile route from LA to west Sacromento, to San Francisco is not only drivable by FCV’s and Tesla’s, but by other BEVs as well.

    A more direct route to Bay Area via Tracy from LA saves 90+ miles, shortening the trip to 385 miles. I know a number of i3’s, LEAF’s and occasional RAV4 EV and a Kia Soul EV that have made the trip. Charging time adds 2.5-3.5 hours to the 6.5 hour trip making it possible in under 12 hours. (with 5-7 stops)

    With the new 107 mile LEAF (2016) the trip could be made with 3-5 stops. This would require a couple hours charging, but throw in a lunch stop and a couple rest stops and time is within an hour of making the trip with any vehicle (at legal speed limits).

  • Dennis Pascual

    Just a quick add… The Coalinga H2 refueling station is at Harris Ranch, about 30 meters/yards from the Tesla Battery Swap. And across the street from the ten Tesla Superchargers or on the other side of the gas station from the Roadster charger.

    The picture is on my Flickr stream which I give TE permission to embed if they’ll like for the “usual” fee 😉 It’s called – IMG_20151010_181908 or IMG_20151010_181912.

  • D. Harrower

    This is a similar situation to how OEMs can’t fully promote the benefits of their EVs without crapping all over their ICE lineups (and therefore aren’t willing to do it)

    If all the facts are made available and a true comparison is done, people will see hydrogen for the money-eating scam it is. H2 proponents can’t have that.

  • TonyWilliamsSanDiego

    On the weekend of May 1, 2015, I drove nearly 600 miles from San Diego, through Los Angeles and San Francisco to Santa Rosa, California.

    I returned on Sunday, leaving late, and arriving on Monday. Let’s call it three days of travel.

    My car: 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV with JdeMO from Quick Charge Power

    The charging equipment used: public CHAdeMO stations along the route.

    No hydrogen
    No gasoline
    No Tesla Supercharger network