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At a cost of up to $2 million to install a station and barely any hydrogen vehicles on the roads, it might seem like the payback time on a hydrogen refueling setup would be quite long. However, First Element Fuel (FEF) thinks that it will only take five years to make a profit selling H2 to paying customers.

Before it can open any stations, FEF has to build them. To do that, it is getting help from California, which is rolling out the red carpet for hydrogen vehicles, and financial assistance from Toyota. The Japanese automaker and FEF have announced a plan to build 19 H2 stations with the help of a $27.6-million grant from the California Energy Commission. The stations will be engineered and built by Black And Veatch, which has also installed many EV charging stations (see press release below). FEF has plans to install another 21 stations, for a total of 40, within five years.

The co-president of FEF, Shane Stephens, recently told Wards Auto that "pretty soon" after the 40 stations are built, "we can demonstrate they'll be profitable." He admitted that not every station will turn a profit. The ones built in more remote areas (like one planned for Lake Tahoe), will likely lose money, Stephens said. One reason these faraway stations will lose more than other stations is because First Element is going to deliver the hydrogen to the stations by truck. The transportation costs outweigh safety concerns with hydrogen pipelines, Stephens told Wards Auto.
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FirstElement Fuel Finalizes California Grant and Recruits Builder of Battery EV Chargers Black & Veatch for Hydrogen Network

August 05, 2014 02:42 PM Eastern Daylight Time

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today FirstElement Fuel Inc., a California-based company dedicated to providing fuel cell vehicle customers with retail hydrogen fuel, finalized an agreement with Black & Veatch to serve as the company's primary engineering and construction provider. This came just one week after the California Energy Commission gave final approval for a $27.6 Million grant to FirstElement to help develop the first phase of a California hydrogen network that will support zero-emission fuel cell vehicles in the state. In addition to the California Grants, FirstElement is receiving financial support from Toyota who will begin selling fuel cell vehicles next year.

"The electrification of the automobile made great strides at the end of July," said Joel Ewanick, CEO of FirstElement Fuel. "With the stroke of a pen the Energy Commission took the hydrogen infrastructure argument off the table with their final approval of our $27.6 Million grant. The very next week we completed our first order of business by signing Black & Veatch as our primary engineering and construction provider for the 19 hydrogen charging locations in our network."

The Energy Commission grant to FirstElement for 19 hydrogen stations will more than triple the current number of stations in the state. The stations, scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2015, represent the initial phase of FirstElement's plan to construct a state-wide hydrogen network as fuel cell vehicles hit show rooms in California starting this year and next.

"Black & Veatch is uniquely qualified having just built a national EV charging network," Ewanick said. "This experience makes them an ideal provider. We are not wasting any time - we started Monday."

The hydrogen network is planned as an add-on to existing gasoline stations to assure easy, retail access for fuel cell vehicle customers. Vehicles that use hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity through a chemical reaction to power an electric motor. Clean water vapor is the only exhaust from the vehicle.

"Black & Veatch is a leader in delivering distributed infrastructure solutions and we are excited to be part of the evolution in transportation fuels," said Rick Azer, Director of Development for Black & Veatch's Smart Integrated Infrastructure services. "This network is an essential component to widespread use of zero emission, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles."