While Toyota especially has proven bullish about the prospects of the future hydrogen infrastructure, questions still remain about finding a safe and stable source of hydrogen, and ultimately how much it will cost future users.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota, used the figures of $30 for 300 miles to refuel a hydrogen-powered vehicle, or about 10 cents a mile and near enough to current EV costs. That would mean hydrogen prices of between $5 to $7 a kilogram to be realistic.

A recent study from the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis analyzed the potential costs, but even this optimistic view faces potential criticism.

“We seem to be tantalizingly close to the beginning of a hydrogen transition,” says lead author Joan Ogden. “The next three to four years will be critical for determining whether hydrogen vehicles are just a few years behind electric vehicles, rather than decades.” Ogden suggests that California, Japan and Germany require “…a targeted regional investment of $100-$200 million in support of 100 stations for about 50,000 FCVs would be enough to make hydrogen cost-competitive with gasoline on a cost-per-mile basis.”

Ogden predicts hydrogen costs could achieve $7.50 per kg in five years, and in 12 years, hit the magic $6 per kg mark. The study suggests that “the boom in low cost shale gas has improved the prospects for natural gas-derived hydrogen, especially in the United States,” but the environmental debate around fracking itself isn’t something discussed here.

Total costs? “For the US as a whole, we estimate that about $1 billion investment would be needed in a series of lighthouse cities to bring the cost of hydrogen to $7/kg, a fuel cost roughly competitive with gasoline on a cent per mile basis.”

UC Davis