Energy Secretary Chu Changes His Mind On Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Cars

Follow Antony

Honda FCX Clarity

Honda FCX Clarity

Enlarge Photo

Much of the jury is still out on the viability of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but they now have the blessing of the United States government.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu had previously opined that light-duty fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) were in need of a few miracles to make them viable in the market place.

Pike Research now reports that Chu has changed his mind, and his official stance on FCVs--and that with new, abundant supplies of natural gas in the U.S., they have potential.

That will be music to the ears of fuel cell supporters, and the small selection of car manufacturers committed to bringing FCVs to market--including Honda, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz.

With its previous non-committal approach, the U.S. had lagged behind countries like Japan and Germany on commercializing fuel cell technology, but the U-turn could open the flood gates to more development.

That may mean better plans for hydrogen refueling networks, or targets for the production and adoption of fuel cell vehicles. As with several other emerging technologies, someone needs to make the first move for the wider industry to properly commit--and with government backing, that may encourage car manfuacturers and hydrogen companies to step up their efforts.

As Pike Research's Kerry-Ann Adamson suggests though, the U.S. will have to take care not to simply fund long-term hydrogen R&D projects, rather than production-viable technology.

The most successful fuel cell companies to date have concentrated on commercialization rather than government handouts.

R&D is important, but just as with battery electric vehicles, long-term survival hinges on people being able to buy and adapt to the technology today.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Us

Comments (19)
  1. Are we sure he means HFCV or FCV? There are other types of fuel cells besides Hydrogen-based (H2). Some folks in Maryland have built a Gasoline-powered FCV type of engine which uses gasoline within a fuel cell to make power. If that works, then you are not blowing away half of gasoline's energy as heat but rather more directly turning it into electricity to be used to turn an electric motor. Hydrogen fuel cells are far more apt to fail as a consumer power source but a CNG-based or gasoline FCV would work.

  2. I guess the huge check the oil and gas industry sent Chu finally cleared and he had a sudden revelation.. Natural gas is not the answer, the way that stuff is drilled up should be illegal.

  3. Oh come one, being able to light your tap water is a cool party trick!

  4. Yah start pumpin out those earthquakes and we'll really get this party a shakin!

  5. Maybe it was from the nat gas industry since you can crack hydrogen from water using gas....


  6. Chu has given a few tens of million dollars to the hydrogen scene, rather than the billion or so given by the Bush government. Pre-election sop, no doubt.

    The fact of the matter remains that they can throw as much research money at it as they like, the number of conversion stages means hydrogen cannot compete with a BEV for efficiency by the laws of thermodynamics.

    They may be able to power a few test fleets with by-product hydrogen from other chemical processes, but that does not translate into an efficient full scale hydrogen economy.

  7. "his official stance on FCVs--and that with new, abundant supplies of natural gas in the U.S., they have potential."

    I don't call that an official support...

  8. Chu mentioned how hydrogen needs 4 miracles (production, storage, distribution and the fuel cells) where saints only need 3, which he correctly deemed unlikely. I really don't see how the natural gas bonanza changes anything that needs him to revise that initial assessment.

    I'm all for a level playing field though. Hydrogen cars should get the same tax credits and any government investment in hydrogen infrastructure (about $1 million a pop for hydrogen stations) should be matched by an equal investment in a network of fastchargers (about $20K a pop?). Don't think that's what the hydrogen hoaxers had in mind though....

  9. Hydrogen cars already getting rebates and carpool access, similar to EVs.

    We already have EV recharging capabilities at home. But Hydrogen needs a large public network to support any hydrogen vehicles...

  10. These fuel cell vehicles are just another greenwash and delaying tactic by the big oilies. Trust us, the new fuel cell tech is coming n its gonna be's a bunch of BS. EVs are here now! Double the range, or more, of the small, less costly EVs now n they will sell many more. Get off the damn gas, natural or not.

  11. What a textbook net energy loser... Money had to be involved here.


  12. Hydrogen is a good fuel only if you an produce it cleanly. But currently, beside splitting water apart, we can't. And doing that "splitting" will use a lot of electricity generated from a dirty source. EV is here and only needs a bigger and cheaper battery. EV is the most efficient thing we got by design.

    If they think Hydrogen Fuel cell is great, then use them to generate electricity instead.

  13. Is this about bloom-energy style natural gas fuel cells?

  14. Oh how quickly they turn when Chu has to bite his tongue. :)


  15. As a substitute range-extender, instead of their current ICE, I do consider GM’s gasoline fuel cell (FC) a threat to climate stability by being fossil fueled. I suspect the FC would, at least, be more efficient for that role than the ICE, since the FC does have a more direct production of electrons w/out the internal friction and greater heat output leading to the ICE’s > fuel consumption. It also takes up < space. It should cost < to build too, due to > simplicity.

  16. Given these advantages, I think that, even when gasoline-powered, the FC could be a very good bridge technology from the ICE, provided it's only temporarily for a few years, toward truly H2-energized FCs—--much as their 4-cyl. ICE has been, while awaiting H2 infrastructure’s development, toward, at least some kind of H2 FC.

  17. Perhaps this new American infrastructure could be developed by the German energy company that has been mixing H2, grid-electrolyzed from water, w/ its "natural" gas for that nation’s heating gas. They have thoroughly proven this technology for obtaining H2, by using it ever since their lean times of the late 1940's. Over time, couldn’t it even gradually phase out the fossil gas (along w/ the "fracking" for its extraction) by increasing the proportion of H2 in this mixture down to zero fossil gas?

  18. Clean H2 production? Can’t clean wind’s grid-power electrolyze it from water? Today, Germany does much of it w/ their increasingly well-developed wind. America’s wind energy is being deployed by leaps and bounds, now that oil’s and coal’s permanent tax credit's cost advantages are being offset by wind’s own renewable energy production tax credit (PTC); albeit renewable's PTC is always kept temporary by fossil-fuel’s power to purchase laws in Congress. This year, wind's PTC does need renewal.

  19. Over the years, once our H2 industry is going, profits from existing space-heating applications can fund its further expansion toward electric automobiles’ fuel. It could eventually share space at existing fueling stations, where we can make our familiar quick stops to fill our tanks (in this case, pressure-tanks for gaseous fuel), instead of unintended energy-depletion on a long trip, if forgetting the all-night battery charge.

    In the long run, isn’t the Energy Secretary, Dr. Chu (formerly of Stanford University), right to recommend storing wind energy in H2 for automobile fuel?

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.