How to Refuel a Hydrogen Car

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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Fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are absolutely brilliant. Using a fuel-cell stack, they split hydrogen gas into ions and electrons, converting the ions into electricity to power the car. Then, the ions and electrons are remarried with air taken into the fuel cell, and the resulting chemical reaction produces water and heat, which exits from the exhaust.

Here’s the problem with FCEVs. They’re only available where public hydrogen refueling stations exist, and at the start of 2019, they exist nearly without exception only in the state of California.

Also, just three FCEV models are currently for sale, and only in the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions: the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Hyundai Nexo, and Toyota Mirai.

Let’s say you live in one of these two areas, and you want to own an FCEV. Naturally, you might ask how you’ll refuel your fuel-cell vehicle with hydrogen gas. I’ve experienced this first-hand, and while it’s not as easy as using a traditional gasoline pump, it sure beats waiting around for a typical electric car to charge.

How to Refuel a Fuel-Cell Vehicle

Frost Appears on Hydrogen Fuel Pump Dispenser
When refueling an FCEV, the pump handle gets extremely cold and develops frost. This is normal. You’ll want to have a glove handy. (Christian Wardlaw)

The car companies that build FCEVs know that refueling them is not easy. That’s why each model comes with a navigation or telematics system with a hydrogen station finder that can easily provide directions to the nearest one, and may even show whether or not that station is open or closed, or is off-line for some reason.

Remember, the hydrogen refueling station network is in its infancy, and it simply is not as easy to find one as it is to find an electric car charging station or a traditional gas station.

Once you find a hydrogen station that is open and operational, the hard part is over. Pull in to the station and pull up to the hydrogen pump just like you would in a gas-fueled vehicle. Get out, open the fuel door, and remove the plastic ring covering the nozzle.

Next, swipe your credit card just like you would at a gas pump. Once the pump is activated, remove the dispenser and carefully attach it to the car’s nozzle, making sure it locks in place. This is different than shoving a gasoline dispenser into a standard car and is one of the main differences when refueling an FCEV.

Now, press the Start button on the pump’s display screen, and if everything is properly connected, the hydrogen gas will start flowing. Each of the three FCEV models on the market is expected to re-fill in about five minutes, according to the automakers.

The other main difference between refueling a gasoline vehicle and an FCEV is that the dispenser handle will get cold, and frost will accumulate on parts of it. This is normal, but can be uncomfortable, so you might want to have a glove handy for refueling time.

Once the tank is full, the pump will shut off. Unlock the dispenser, remove it from the car’s nozzle, and put it back on the pump. Cover the nozzle with the plastic cap, shut the fuel door, and you’re ready to cover another 300 to 400 miles.


About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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