Hydrogen-powered vehicle drivers in South Korea have had to wait hours to refuel — and in some cases, had to be towed to stations with spare capacity — after disruptions to H2 supply shuttered three-quarters of its refuelling stations.

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Hyundai Steel ordinarily supplies 20-30% of hydrogen for transport in Korea’s central region (which includes the capital city Seoul), or around 3,500 tonnes of grey H2 produced from unabated natural gas a year.

But since July, three of its hydrogen production facilities have broken down due to a problem with the compressors, according to local newspaper Korea Economic Daily.

Repairs are ongoing, with only one of the production lines back up and running.

And while Hyundai Steel has told Korean media that the second will be repaired at the end of this month and the third by the end of the year, what little H2 is produced in the meantime will likely be prioritised for Hyundai Steel’s existing hydrogen use in steelmaking, leaving refuelling stations empty-handed.

Meanwhile, Hyundai’s pilot Chungju biogas-to-hydrogen project, which started operations last year, has been blamed for producing H2 of insufficient quality, causing breakdowns in fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

This has led to a widespread shutdown of refuelling stations across the country, including eight of ten in Seoul.

Only around 41 sites are still listed as open-for-business out of 159 stations on the government-backed Hydrogen Distribution Information System, with many reportedly rationing supply to drivers.

This has reportedly led to three- or four-hour waits, with some FCEVs running out of fuel and having to be towed to the nearest station with capacity.

South Korean FCEV drivers were already furious with government-backed hydrogen refuelling station operator Hynet after hiking its fuel price in July by more than a third.

South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is set to hold an emergency meeting with industrial hydrogen producers tomorrow (Friday) to discuss potential solutions to this supply crisis.

The situation parallels the California’s ongoing hydrogen refuelling supply crisis, which has seen stations suspend operations for more than three prices amid a breakdown in supply and skyrocketing H2 fuel prices.