FirstElement fueling station

Fill ’er up — with hydrogen

by Craig Reem

An Irvine-based company is fueling the next generation of pollution-free cars.

FirstElement Fuel Inc., located in UCI Research Park, develops, owns and operates hydrogen fueling stations for fuel-cell cars.

There are five stations in Orange County – at the edge of the UC Irvine campus, San Juan Capistrano, Lake Forest, Costa Mesa and Anaheim. FirstElement Fuel owns the Lake Forest and Costa Mesa stations and will open one in Fountain Valley this year.

“Our mission is based around accelerating the adoption of fuel-cell vehicles to have a positive impact on the automobile industry and the planet,” says Dr. Shane Stephens, who founded FirstElement seven years ago. He and company executive Dr. Tim Brown earned their Ph.D.s at UC Irvine’s renowned National Fuel Cell Research Center.

Hydrogen cars produce only pure water vapor. “And you can have all the same performance as a gasoline vehicle,” Stephens says. “It can fill with fuel quickly, gets 350 to 400 miles of range and can scale up to larger vehicles.”

While a statewide fueling network is in place (Stephens says you can comfortably drive from San Diego to Lake Tahoe without experiencing fuel anxiety), the challenge is keeping up with demand.

“Global automakers work in steps,” he says. “We knew they would bring 1,000 vehicles a year. The next step is tens of thousands of cars a year. We are expecting the next step to happen in 2022-2023.