Hydrogen fuel-cell fills coming to North Vancouver

The North Shore is soon to get its first hydrogen fuel-cell filling station.

North Vancouver-based HTEC announced at the Vancouver International Auto Show this week its plans to build a hydrogen fuel pump adjoining the 7-Eleven at Westview Shopping Centre this summer.

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“It’s been in the works for quite some time. We are building a network of six of the stations in the Lower Mainland, and this is getting ready to allow the sale of hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles,” said Colin Armstrong, HTEC CEO.

Right now, there are only about six hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the Lower Mainland (and Armstrong’s is one of them), and there is only one Vancouver station that offers fills.

But that’s about to change, Armstrong said.

Currently, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are producing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles for markets around the world, and retail sales are expected to launch in Vancouver by the end of the year. Vehicle prices have not been released as yet, but Armstrong said he expects to see them in the $50,000 to $70,000 range.

In California, hydrogen cars outnumber those in British Columbia by about 1,000 to one. That is thanks to the state’s mandate for zero-emission vehicle sales, Armstrong said.

The B.C. government announced last year that by 2040, only zero-emission vehicles will be for sale in the province.

“That drives the availability of the vehicles for those key markets,” Armstrong said.

The only thing that comes from a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle’s tailpipe is water vapour.

When it comes to consumer sales for people wanting to leave petrochemicals behind, plug-in electric vehicles have a major head start, Armstrong acknowledged, and they have their advantages – like higher efficiency and cheaper energy costs.

But hydrogen fuel-cell technology has been quietly advancing, and production costs have been coming down, Armstrong said. Hydrogen vehicles are much lighter than EVs because they do not need heavy batteries, and they fuel up in minutes as opposed to hours.

“Time and technology soldiers along and over the last decade, from all the demonstrations, a lot of learning has gone on,” he said. “You get zero emissions, long range, quick filling and the fuelling stations will proliferate. There’s no question about it. … Everything is moving in the right direction.”

With those benefits in mind, auto manufacturers see a market opportunity.

“A lot of people like the existing model. Go to the gas station, fill up, buy your lottery ticket and move on,” he said.

Armstrong said the Westview 7-Eleven is ideally situated because it can serve the local market as well as people headed for Whistler or the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal.

HTEC has been involved in the hydrogen distribution business since the mid-2000s but North Vancouver is something of a cradle for hydrogen power technology, with industry pioneer Ballard Power having its start here in the 1980s.

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