Following hydrogen facility explosion, fuel-cell vehicle owners left stranded

An explosion at a hydrogen fuel production facility shows the industry has a long way to go before fuel cell-powered vehicles can truly be considered a reliable alternative to the internal-combustion engine.

Green Car Reports reported Thursday that hundreds of fuel-cell vehicle owners had no choice but to park their cars due to a hydrogen fuel shortage. The explosion, which happened in Santa Clara, California, this past June, effectively choked the supply of hydrogen to fueling stations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The stations have been dry ever since.

Per interviews with owners, the website said Toyota , Honda and Hyundai have provided rental vehicles to some customers while the hydrogen supply comes back online. One named owner, Vivian Knits, said she had no choice but to trade her Toyota Mirai in early for a Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. Paying for “luxury car insurance” became too much for a car that sat parked, per Knit’s comments.

Toyota told the website it was not involved in a buyback for the Mirai and said whatever deal Knits worked out was likely between her and a local dealership. Although she said goodbye to the fuel cell-powered car, Knits added she loved the vehicle, but the hunt for fuel became a chore.

Honda told Roadshow in a statement the company is aware of the supply and delivery issues and it’s in communication with Air Products, which operates the production facility. “They have not yet provided a specific date for resolution, but we will provide updates to Clarity Fuel Cell customers as they become available,” a Honda representative added.

A statement on Aug. 30 from the hydrogen production facility that Air Products operates said it was ready to begin refueling processes, but awaited further inspections from the Santa Clara Fire Department before fully returning to normal operations.

Honda added that that it encourages any impacted Clarity Fuel Cell lessee to utilize the free luxury car rental program offered to each driver if they are unable to refuel their car during this shortage.

Hydrogen fuel infrastructure remains in its infancy, even more so than electric-car charging infrastructure. The vast majority of stations are in California, to serve the few production fuel-cell vehicles on sale today. While topping off with hydrogen is far quicker than waiting for an electric car to charge, it’s clear there are many additional hurdles to clear before fuel-cell vehicles are ready for prime time.

Toyota did not immediately return our request for comment while Hyundai directed Roadshow to the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

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