By Jim Kerr

All filling stations are not equal. On May 10, 2011, the latest in automotive filling stations opened to provide the fuel of the future – hydrogen. It is the first hydrogen fuelling station fed directly from an active industrial pipeline. Located in Torrance, California, the filling station is adjacent to the Toyota Motor Sales USA sales and marketing headquarters, and is part of the company’s strategic plan to bring a hydrogen-fuelled fuel cell vehicle to the market by 2015.

The hydrogen filling station is a joint venture supported by Toyota, Air Products, Shell, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the Department of Energy (DOE). It will provide fuel to a fleet of Toyota demonstration vehicles and will be open to other fuel cell fleets in the Los Angeles area.

“Building an extensive hydrogen re-fuelling infrastructure is a critical step in the successful market launch of fuel cell vehicles,” said Chris Hostetter, group vice president, product and strategic planning, Toyota Motor Sales. “The infrastructure must be in place to support our customers’ needs.”

This filling station is part of California’s Hydrogen Highway project, which creates a corridor for refuelling zero and low emissions vehicles with hydrogen fuel. British Columbia also has a Hydrogen Highway, from Vancouver to Whistler, with filling stations built to support hydrogen fuelled vehicles showcased during the 2010 Olympics.

What makes the California station unique is that it is the first to be tied in directly by pipeline from an industrial source. Typically, filling stations have had on-site high-pressure storage tanks, with the hydrogen pressurized up to 10,000 psi to fill the latest vehicle hydrogen storage tanks.

Hydrogen highways are being developed in other parts of the world too. Portland, Maine will become the starting point for a U.S. East Coast Hydrogen Highway, while Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland have partnered with Hyundai-Kia to develop the Scandinavian Hydrogen Partnership.

You may be thinking, “why the push for this development?” Well, there are many hydrogen-fuelled vehicles in development, and in order for them to be practical, there has to be a source of fuel available. It’s a chicken-and-egg case of which comes first; in this case, both the vehicles and the fuel supply have to be developed simultaneously.

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