A driver fills up a fuel cell vehicle with hydrogen at one of California&39's few public hydrogen refueling stations.

(Credit: California Fuel Cell Partnership)

The mantra for the California's Hydrogen Highway has been, "build it and they will come." That planned thoroughfare will soon see more zero-emission traffic now that the California Energy Commission (CEC) released funds for three new hydrogen refueling stations across the state.

Stations in Laguna Niguel, West Sacramento, and South San Francisco should come online in the next 18 months, and will eventually serve the fuel cell vehicles that manufacturers will produce starting in 2015. To ensure these stations aren't fly-by-night operations with all the curb appeal of a scrap yard, they are required to be in high-traffic areas, produce at least 100 kg of hydrogen per day (33 percent of which must be produced using renewable energy), have public access with retail-like facilities, and be backed by multiple automakers planning to sell fuel cell vehicles to consumers near the station.

For stations that meet the CEC's hydrogen station business plan and building requirements, the organization is funding up to 75 percent of the construction costs. The Laguna Nigel and Sacramento stations will receive almost $4 million to construct the facilities, which amounts to 75 percent of the planned costs. However, the the station near the San Francisco airport will get $567,003, which is only 18 percent of the planned budget.

Splitting constructions costs is necessary to encourage developers to seed the state with hydrogen fuel stations even though there is no immediate revenue stream. In fact, it's not even legal to sell hydrogen to retail customers currently because the standards for weights and measurements have not been established. But that could change soon.

In addition to funding the three stations, the CEC is also giving money to the California Division of Measurement Standards to work on the codes, standards, and tests that will allow hydrogen to be sold as a retail fuel.

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