Basics

Photo of light-duty vehicle at hydrogen refueling station.

Infrastructure is required to move hydrogen from the location where it's produced to the dispenser at a refueling station or stationary power site. Infrastructure includes the pipelines, trucks, railcars, ships, and barges that deliver fuel, as well as the facilities and equipment needed to load and unload them.

Delivery technology for hydrogen infrastructure is currently available commercially, and several U.S. companies deliver bulk hydrogen today. Some of the infrastructure is already in place because hydrogen has long been used in industrial applications, but it's not sufficient to support widespread consumer use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. Because hydrogen has a relatively low volumetric energy density, its transportation, storage, and final delivery to the point of use comprise a significant cost and result in some of the energy inefficiencies associated with using it as an energy carrier.

Options and trade-offs for hydrogen delivery from central, semi-central, and distributed production facilities to the point of use are complex. The choice of a hydrogen production strategy greatly affects the cost and method of delivery.

For example, larger, centralized facilities can produce hydrogen at relatively low costs due to economies of scale, but the delivery costs for centrally produced hydrogen are higher than the delivery costs for semi-central or distributed production options (because the point of use is farther away). In comparison, distributed production facilities have relatively low delivery costs, but the hydrogen production costs are likely to be higher—lower volume production means higher equipment costs on a per-unit-of-hydrogen basis.

Key challenges to hydrogen delivery include reducing delivery cost, increasing energy efficiency, maintaining hydrogen purity, and minimizing hydrogen leakage. Further research is needed to analyze the trade-offs between the hydrogen production options and the hydrogen delivery options taken together as a system. Building a national hydrogen delivery infrastructure is a big challenge. It will take time to develop and will likely include combinations of various technologies. Delivery infrastructure needs and resources will vary by region and type of market (e.g., urban, interstate, or rural). Infrastructure options will also evolve as the demand for hydrogen grows and as delivery technologies develop and improve.