As the world looks like it's finally embracing hydrogen as the propellant to power its energy transition from fossil fuels, investors are racing to find the businesses that will meet global demand.
First Element Fuel, the company behind the world's largest hydrogen fueling network (it may be the world's only real hydrogen fueling network), may be that company in the U.S.
At least that's what big industrial Japanese investors including the chemical company Air Water; Japan's largest bank, the MUFG Bank; industrial equipment manufacturer, Nikkiso, and the Japan Infrastructure Initiative Company think.
They're behind the huge $105 million new investment into the company to help FirstElement build out a network of hydrogen fueling stations under the brand, True Zero.
Japan and Japanese business need hydrogen fueled vehicles to become a thing. In part that's because the nation has invested nearly a billion dollars in developing hydrogen production and applications in 2021 alone.
As a fuel source for vehicles, Hydrogen has some stiff competition. Electric vehicles that run off of power pulled directly from the grid are already taking off in most passenger vehicles and in some more heavy-duty applications.
It's bad news for companies like Toyota and Mitsubishi that have made big bets on hydrogen-powered passenger cars.
Hydrogen has other issues. If the goal is a full transition away from fossil fuels (and most scientists say that needs to happen by 2050 to stop global warming from getting worse), then hydrogen may not be the best way to get there since most hydrogen today is made from processing natural gas.
There are other, sustainable ways to make hydrogen, but the costs of those production methods are still relatively expensive compared to just using solar energy or wind to generate electricity to power cars, according to some industry observers.
Hydrogen does have benefits in aviation and shipping, where electric options just don't work, but the terrestrial transportation market may be a hard sell.
Still, anything's better than gasoline and FirstElement has the receipts to prove that its services do reduce emissions.
"It's very encouraging to have partners like these who share our vision of what can be accomplished when we build a network of hydrogen stations," said Joel Ewanick, Founder and CEO of FirstElement Fuel Inc., in a statement. "The whole team at FirstElement is very appreciative of all the financial support we are getting so that we can continue to build our vision of a hydrogen network that serves cars and heavy-duty trucks as well as expand from 31 stations to at least 80 over the next few years."
FirstElement has also been the beneficiary of some very generous state funding from California. The company, which opened its first hydrogen station in December 2015, has received over $125 million in public funding from the California Energy Commission, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
The company has turned that money into services powering over 170 million zero emission miles and 110 million pounds of avoided carbon dioxide.
That figure is pretty small compared to the millions of tons avoided by electric vehicles, but companies have to start somewhere, right?