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Air Liquide plans first hydrogen-for-energy plant

$150 million facility in western US will help power 35,000 fuel-cell electric vehicles

by Marc S. Reisch
November 29, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 48


A photo of a fuel cell under the hood of a car.
Credit: Toyota
This fuel cell runs on hydrogen.

Air Liquide is spending $150 million on what it says will be the world’s first large hydrogen plant dedicated to supplying the energy market. To be built in the western US for the California market, the plant will have the capacity to power 35,000 fuel-cell electric vehicles.

The firm’s bet on hydrogen fuel follows numerous smaller investments in hydrogen fueling stations in California and elsewhere supplied from the firm’s industrial gas network.

The new plant will be built at an as-yet-undetermined site and produce most if not all of its 30 metric tons of hydrogen per day from landfill-derived methane.

Some of the gas will come from Air Liquide–owned and operated facilities that convert waste to “renewable” natural gas, a company spokesperson says. The firm also plans to use renewable energy to run the process.

Though fuel-cell vehicles emit only water and heat from their tailpipes, the conversion of methane to H2 generates the global warming gas CO2 as a by-product. Still, “hydrogen produced from natural gas and used in a fuel-cell vehicle is twice as efficient and 55% cleaner than gasoline,” says the California Fuel Cell Partnership, an industry-government group.

Construction on the hydrogen facility will begin early next year, Air Liquide says. Deliveries should get under way in 2022, when 40,000 fuel-cell vehicles will be on California roads, the firm says.

To get the fuel into customer vehicles, Air Liquide has signed an agreement with FirstElement Fuel, which operates 19 retail hydrogen stations from San Francisco to San Diego. Another 12 are on the drawing board.

Air Liquide says it also plans to invest in FirstElement. Other investors include fuel-cell vehicle makers Toyota and Honda.


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