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Israel’s first hydrogen refilling station for vehicles opens in north

Station, partly funded by Energy Ministry, stems from partnership between 3 companies and offers a greener alternative to fuel, though producing the hydrogen requires energy too

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Colmobil engineer Nimrod Ofir stands by one of three trucks that will be filled at Israel's first hydrogen refilling station at Yagur near Haifa, in northern Israel, May 8, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)
Colmobil engineer Nimrod Ofir stands by one of three trucks that will be filled at Israel's first hydrogen refilling station at Yagur near Haifa, in northern Israel, May 8, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

With a recorded message from President Isaac Herzog and a visit from Energy Ministry Israel Katz, the heads of three large companies opened the country’s first hydrogen refilling station on Monday.

Located close to northern Israel’s Kibbutz Yagur, just ten kilometers (six miles) from the Bazan oil refineries at Haifa Bay, the Sonol station already features regular fuel pumps and recharging stations for electric cars. It will soon acquire a storage facility for solar energy produced by panels on the roof, at which point it will become energetically self-sufficient.

The NIS 12 million ($3.3 million) hydrogen project, a quarter of which was funded by the government, is the fruit of a three-way partnership between Sonol, which owns gas stations throughout the country, Bazan, which manufactures hydrogen, and vehicle importer Colmobil, which has supplied the first three hydrogen trucks — one for each of the partners.

According to Colmobil engineer Nimrod Ofir, each truck’s stack of seven tanks can carry 32 kilograms of hydrogen in gaseous form and drive 450 kilometers (280 miles) before having to refill — a process that takes just 15 minutes.

The hydrogen is stored in a large container at the gas station and supplied to the trucks through what looks like a regular gas pump with a nozzle.

Thanks to an infrared connection, the pump can read how much hydrogen the truck needs.

The hydrogen enters the truck in frozen form and gradually heats up during the journey.

Hydrogen tanks in one of Israel’s first three hydrogen-fueled trucks at the Sonol gas station in Yagur, near Haifa, northern Israel, May 8, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Energy is created when the hydrogen meets oxygen from the air in a fuel cell. There, a catalyst sparks an electrochemical reaction between the two elements. The only byproduct is water.

The power that is created can be used directly to run the truck’s engine, Ofir explained, or can be temporarily stored in a hydrogen battery to give the vehicle an extra boost — for example, when going up a hill.

Sonol plans to open more hydrogen stations in the south and center of the country over the next couple of years.

Around the world, the promise of hydrogen as a source of power for trucking, heavy industry and even homes, is sparking the next revolution in clean energy.

Hydrogen-driven trains are already running in Germany.

The technology is still in its infancy, but money is being invested in Israel and overseas to make hydrogen use more powerful, efficient and cost-effective.

As it can be produced wherever there is water and a source of electricity, it can offer some energy independence for countries otherwise dependent on powers that produce coal, oil and natural gas.

From left: Sonol CEO, Nir Galili, Minister of Energy Israel Katz, Colmobil CEO Yaneev Shirazi, Bazan CEO Asaf Almagor neear Kibbutz Yagur on May 8, 2023. (Idan Sabah)

Hydrogen has to be manufactured because it only occurs naturally in conjunction with other elements. Separating it requires energy.

Bazan is currently using fossil fuels for these processes. CEO Asaf Almagor told The Times of Israel that the company had decided not to wait for ‘green’ hydrogen, based on renewable energy, before launching the hydrogen project, but was investing in Israeli company H2Pro with the hope of using renewables for the process in the future.

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