Thursday, June 08, 2006

Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles Around the Corner

Although it seems as if everyday I hear a report that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are still decades away the facts don't appear to support this. Currently every major automotive company is highly invested in researching fuel-cell technology and most have at least one working prototype already. For sometime now GM has been promising that they will begin mass producing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles by 2010 and now just recently Honda has joined in saying that they too will be offering fuel-cell vehicles by 2010. Also both Daimler-Chrysler and Ford Motors have done an extensive amount of research and real world tests (though neither have committed to any date). Here is a run down of whats going on.

GM


That is a video of GM's most recent version of the Hy-Wire Fuel-cell vehicle. Source

Honda


"Hydrogen fuel cell cars could be on the road much earlier than the decade or more so far predicted. Honda has confirmed it plans a production model “in three to four years”."

Source


Ford Motors

"An ongoing successful road-test of a small fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles has Ford engineers optimistic about their reliability and ultimate roadworthiness.

Ford is testing 30 Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) in seven U.S. cities and in Canada and Germany. They are driven daily by local governmental employees and have racked up more than 180,000

miles." Source


Daimler-Chrysler

"Largest real-life test of fuel cell vehicles wordwide running strong"

"Customers in Japan, Singapore, USA, Europe, China and Australia try out fuel cell vehicles in everyday use"

Source


14 Comments:

I have always been sceptical of President Bush's hydrogen initiative. Hydrogen is not cheaply available, and does not travel well in a small vehicle as fuel. It is much better for automotive fuel cells to use liquid fuels such as an alcohol (butanol is best if you can get it) and extract the hydrogen for use at the cell.

Politicians should not be running this kind of thing. They are too prone to poor advice. The same thing applies to Gore and global warming. The surest way to create a catastrophe is to centralise (governmentalise) efforts to deal with a relatively minor problem.

By Blogger al fin, at 20/6/06 17:10  

Hi Al. Nice to hear from you. I certainly agree with you about "governmentalizing" science and economics and I also agree to some extent that hydrogen is not a suitable vehicle fuel. However one should understand that a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is also a battery elctric vehicle that happens to get some of its energy from hydrogen. That being the case it is exciting to hear that major auto manufacturers are planning mass production in a mere few years.
I don't know how much you know about this but, for instance, GM's vehicle uses all-wheel-drive in-wheel electric motors, uses drive-by-wire technology, and is powered by a combination of hydrogen fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries, and ultra-super capacitors. Such a vehicle could be charged anywhere there is an electric outlet or/and it can be fueled with hydrogen if/where it is available. So you see this technology is market and science driven and does not depend on any kind of politicians vision or some pie in the sky "hydrogen hyway". I'm quite convinced that some kind of electric vehicle will be the vehicle of choice in five years.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 21/6/06 02:56  

Mr. Glasser,
I agree with you and am also very excited that we are on the verge of this "Great Leap Forward" the only question is how to make it an economy of scale? The current infrastructure can not readily adapt to Hydrogen production and distribution without heavy investment. Two factors will determine the speed of evolution of our vehicles:
1. The market. When consumers start to look at the FCV as a viable alternative the money will follow. Although I am against the violence in the Middle East, it may just drive oil prices up high enough to get people thinking about FCV. Neccesity is the mother....
2. Goverment intervention, be it subsidization capital or RD investments.

The US should see Hydrogen Energy as a matter of national security. All efforts should be focused on affecting this change. Not only for the enviorment but to maintain our ever eroding competitive edge.
Matt

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 24/7/06 16:05  

But why would we want hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

I entirely agree with Al. Hydrogen is not readily available, it must be 'manufactured' in an inefficient process. It isn't appropriate to transport as a fuel cell in a small vehicle due to its chemical properties and weight characteristics.

Electric (read: battery charged) vehicles show more promise. The technology to make electric cars affordable, effective, and even performance oriented is available today. Future improvements in battery technology and available motors would only make them better.

I suspect automotive companies are only interested in hydrogen fuel cells as a PR tool. The amount of money they 'invest' in R&D is negligable when compared to their advertising campaigns. Historically they've shown the public that they are resistant to change and innovation (does anybody remember having to pass laws requiring seatbelts before automotive companies would install them stock?).

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/8/06 03:50  

The next 24 months should be telling. Since a hydrogen fuel cell based automobile is essentially an electric car, the various battery advances hinted at in the news recently will be in direct competition. If we really see a significant breakthrough in battery and/or ultra capacitor power and energy storage, and charge rate, then fuel cells for mainstream transportation applications will be stillborn. There may still be an application for remote areas of the world or for stationary power generation but likely nothing else of significance.

If companies like EESTOR, A123 Systems, and others, on the other hand, are vastly over hyping their new or soon to be new electrical storage products then fuel cells have a slim chance. In this case it will depend on the success or failure of producing carbon-neutral biofuels in significant volume and much (much) more efficient internal combustion engines being developed.

I would say the number one potential development that could make hydrogen an economical energy carrier would be efficient and cost effective on-site hydrogen generation from water via solar or grid electricity. Any other generation or transportation method for hydrogen seems doomed to failure because of the lack of existing infrastructure (and the cost of building the same) or the continued dependency on fossil fuels for hydrogen production.

Still, big money (i.e. the oil and chemical companies) has a significant stake in making hydrogen successful so we may yet see fuel cell based cars on the road, at least for a few years. And, as Micah Glasser points out, developing a successful fuel cell car also helps a battery based car because of the drive train (assuming the auto manufactures don't decide sticking with mechanical transmissions and differentials is more cost effective).

One thing is for sure: After three decades of relative stagnation, there is a LOT of new development going on for automobiles.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/10/06 13:06  

Now here's some interesting research: Richard Bourgeois and colleagues at a General Electric research facility in Niskayuna, N.Y. claim to have used a moldable, high-tech GE plastic called Noryl to cut the equipment cost of using electricity to product hydrogen from water in half. They claim to have brought the cost down to about $3 per KG of hydrogen (about the equivalent energy of a gallon of gas). One step closer to a hydrogen economy? This was reported in Popular Mechanics November 2006 issue.

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