Hydrogen-Powered Cars – Is There A Future For Them?
We all know that EVs are now the hype in the automotive world, but what about hydrogen-powered cars? Well, let’s just say that the Obama administration is planning on cutting down funding for hydrogen by 40%. Even worse than that is the lack of any sort of infrastructure at the moment. Experts affirm that it will take decades for hydrogen to have an appreciable impact on gasoline consumption and the emissions of CO2.
Despite all of these downsides, some automakers are still considering this technology, and more than that, they want to start selling these cars in 2015 or so. One of these car manufacturers is Mercedes-Benz and as we speak three of their F-Cell hatchbacks are on the West Coast streets, during an around-the-world trip, meant to prove the potential of this technology.
This year on January 29th, three F-Cell models left Stuttgart and they will conquer 14 countries in four months, covering about 20,000 miles each. The reason why some automakers still consider hydrogen is because it offers the just about the same benefits as EVs – zero CO2 emissions, without the drawbacks of long recharge times and short range. A hydrogen fuel cell car is in fact an electric vehicle and it uses a fuel cell, instead of a big and heavy battery to provide the necessary juice. The great thing about this technology is that you can “fill up” a car with hydrogen in just a couple of minutes and it will last you about 250 miles. In addition, the technology can be implemented into all cars, including buses and other types of vehicles.
As we mentioned before on rpmGO, the German automaker Mercedes-Benz will start making the F-Cell in 2015, and until then they will lease a limited number of units. Toyota will do just about the same thing in the years to come, while Honda will roll out the FCX Clarity, which is currently leased to two dozen people in Southern California. As far as General Motors is concerned, they have the Chevrolet Equinox, while Hyundai recently launched in Washington D.C., the third generation of its Tucson ix fuel cell vehicle.
These cars that we’ve mentioned above are real models, not just some prototypes, concepts, etc. The F-Cell is based on the B-Class that Mercedes sells in Europe. It features a 136 hp (100 kW) motor that performs just like a conventional 2.0-liter gasoline power unit. The car packs about 12 kg of hydrogen, stored at 10,000 psi in three carbon-fiber-reinforced tanks, giving it a range of 250 miles. The F-Cell has an equivalent of 71 mpg, which is pretty good if you ask me. This hardware can be installed under the floor or under the bonnet, leaving plenty of space inside for five passengers and 15 cubic feet for storing stuff.
The car themselves have never been a problem, except for the fact that they are quite expensive. For example, the earlier models that were created would have had a price tag of about $1 million if some brave company decided to roll them out. This is the reason why the car manufacturers that developed hydrogen fuel cell vehicles decided to lease some of their cars, but the problem is that even leasing is quite pricey. For example, the aforementioned Mercedes-Benz F-Cell will set you back $849 / month for two years, while the FCX Clarity is $600 / month for three years. Both Mercedes and Honda offer unlimited hydrogen, insurance and maintenance, but it still is very expensive.
Good news are coming from Toyota as they managed to reduce the costs of making a fuel cell car more than 90% by using less expensive materials. They plan to roll out their first hydrogen model for about $50,000, which will be somewhat similar to the F-Cell.
As we mentioned above, the problem is not with the car, it is with storing and distributing the hydrogen on a wide scale. The funny thing is that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the entire universe, used in aerospace, food and refining. We produce a lot of it, but it isn’t available for the mass audience.
According to Mercedes, at the moment there are only 200 hydrogen fuelling stations in the world. For this reason, Linde, who is the company that is in charge of providing the hydrogen for the F-Cell cars, had to make a mobile fueling rig for the trip. California has four public stations now and plans are to open another 19 by the end of next year.
By 2016, the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative wants to open 20-25 stations in Oahu. The state’s most important gas provider is the Gas Company and they produce hydrogen and synthetic natural gas and deliver it through the pipelines. Using pressure swing, they want to divert this hydrogen to fuelling stations. Experts say that this is a cost-effective way of producing and delivering hydrogen, a method that has a real potential.
SunHydro has decided to build a “hydrogen highway” from Maine to Miami by using solar-powered electrolysis in order to generate hydrogen at privately funded stations. Last fall they’ve opened their very first station in Connecticut.
The Japanese automaker Honda is working on home fueling. Using a 6 kW solar array to power an electrolyzer, the Solar Hydrogen Station produces 0.5 kg of hydrogen in just eight hours, which should last about 30 miles or so, enough for daily commute.
In Norway there are four hydrogen stations that have been up and running since 2006 and this year another three will be open for business. Regarding Japan, they have dozens of stations and by 2015 they plan to have a network of 100. Similar projects are under development in Germany, Spain and Denmark.
There is another issue to be taken into consideration – hydrogen is most of the times distributed by truck, and guess what the trucks are running on? Fossil fuels of course. However, according to the California Energy Commission, hydrogen still brings a net reduction in energy consumption, as well as CO2 emissions in comparison to the regular gas.
I can understand that the technology has tremendous potential, but if we take into consideration that not even the United States can afford to build the necessary infrastructure anytime soon, we will have to wait at least 20-30 years until hydrogen will be mass produced and distributed so that it will power our cars. I wouldn’t be surprised if it will never catch on, despite the efforts made by the most important players in the automotive world. We’ll have to wait and see.
Post tags: Tags: Green, honda fcx clarity, hydrogen-fuel-cell, mercedes f-cell