Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology have been struggling to make inroads in the New England market. But a recent development by a French energy company promises to open the door to more hydrogen vehicles hitting the road.
On Thursday, Air Liquide announced it has entered long-term lease agreements for hydrogen stations in the Massachusetts communities of Braintree and Mansfield. The stations are scheduled to open to the public in early 2017.
Two more hydrogen stations are also planned for Hartford, Connecticut and the Bronx in New York City.
The stations are the first of 12 hydrogen stations Air Liquide plans to open in the northeast region of the U.S. The company has partnered with Toyota Motors in an effort to promote Toyota’s hydrogen-powered Mirai.
One hydrogen fueling station currently exists in Billericaat the headquarters of hydrogen fuel cell maker Nuvera, but it is primarily used to fuel the company’s industrial vehicles.
Hydrogen in New England
One of the key reasons hydrogen-powered cars have not taken off in the region is because there are no refueling stations operational nearby. Charles Myers, president of the Massachusetts Hydrogen Coalition, sees the announcement as key to growing the hydrogen fuel cell market.
“We’re very excited,’’ Myers told Boston.com in a phone interview. “The announcement by Air Liquide confirms the start of a Northeast hydrogen station network that will enable the launch of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the [region].’’
A spokesperson for Air Liquide said the Braintree and Mansfield sites were chosen after the company “identified key strategic partnerships, both public and private entities, that have the necessary real estate and a large number of sites that would allow for us to expand our infrastructure rapidly.’’
Of the eight remaining stations planned for the Northeast, the Air Liquide spokesman confirmed two more sites are planned for Massachusetts.
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Green cars at the 2016 New England Auto Show
The fuel cell technology combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. Vehicles equipped with the technology only emit water vapors instead of more harmful carbon emissions.
The technology also offers consumers several potential advantages over battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. First, while battery-electric and plug-in hybrids can take between 30 minutes and several hours to recharge, it only takes about five minutes to refuel a hydrogen-powered car, similar to refilling a gasoline tank.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles also offer a more impressive range than their electric counterparts. While the recently unveiled Tesla Model 3 boasts a range of 215 miles, the Mirai offers a range of 312 miles. Another hydrogen-powered car, the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, offers a range of 265 miles.
In addition to Toyota and Hyundai, BMW is also planning to add a hydrogen-powered vehicle to its lineup.
In a statement, Air Liquide says its hydrogen will be produced off-site and delivered to the stations. The company says the stations will be able to support other manufacturers as they produce more hydrogen vehicles.
“Air Liquide firmly believes in the potential of hydrogen as a clean and reliable source of energy for the transportation sector, both in the United States and worldwide,’’ said Air Liquide CEO Ole Hoeflemann in a statement.
Update: The headline of this story has been changed and a sentence has been added to reflect the fact that one hydrogen fueling station already exists in Billerica, though it is only accessible to the public in some circumstances.