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DoE Backpedals, Will Fund Slight Hydrogen Fueling Station Expansion

 
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Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car, 2012 Detroit Auto Show

Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car, 2012 Detroit Auto Show

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It appears that the U.S. Department of Energy has had a change of heart.

Four years ago, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu was widely known as a skeptic about hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Last summer, he appeared to relent--and now the DoE has said it will launch a campaign to promote hydrogen fueled cars, tentatively deemed H2USA.

According to a writeup in trade journal Automotive News, the campaign is as much about symbolism and convincing municipalities and the industry that there is support for further tests of hydrogen cars.

The article notes the campaign won't be lavishly funded, contrasting the modest effort to the expansive funding for hydrogen vehicles a decade ago under President George W. Bush.

One of the initiative's tasks will be to advocate for funding and construction of the hydrogen refueling stations that will be needed if Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai bring hydrogen vehicles to market in 2015 or thereafter, as they have said they will.

Those automakers feel that hydrogen-fueled cars are still important as one way to travel with zero emissions without the range anxiety of most battery-electric vehicles today.

Not every global carmaker agrees; Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn said hydrogen cars are unviable as a future technology just two weeks ago.

Today, there are likely no more than 200 hydrogen-fueled vehicles operating regularly on U.S. roads.

General Motors has about 25 of its "Project Driveway" Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell Vehicles on the road at any given time, according to Shad Balch, GM's Manager, Environment & Energy Policy and Communications.

"These are the same vehicles we used in the Project Driveway program from 2008 through 2011," Balch said.

"We have a dozen in Hawaii and two in California at the Camp Pendleton Marine base, participating in a Department of Defense program. We're also putting miles on six vehicles as part of a data-driven program by the DoE."

Honda has leased roughly 25 of its FCX Clarity fuel-cell cars to California drivers as well; the mid-size sedan was the first dedicated hydrogen vehicle to be offered to the public when it went on sale in 2008.

First Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle delivery, Newport Beach, Dec 2010

First Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle delivery, Newport Beach, Dec 2010

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Mercedes-Benz has had a fleet of up to 70 B Class F-Cell vehicles operating in northern and southern California since 2011 as well.

While Mercedes-Benz recently partnered with Ford and Nissan on development of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, a two-year delay in its plans to offer a production hydrogen car was buried in the announcement.

By the end of 2015, there will likely be 500,000 of more plug-in electric vehicles on U.S. roads.

While that's short of President Obama's ambitious goal of 1 million such cars in 2015, it will outnumber the hydrogen vehicle population by two to three orders of magnitude.

What do you think? Should the U.S. devote Federal funding to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle rollout and infrastructure? And what are the right conditions for these cars to succeed in the market?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

[hat tip: Brian Henderson]

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Comments (22)
  1. I often think...these should be plug-in fuel cell vehicles. After all, they have a battery, they should have a plug.

    But then I think...that makes it a Range-Extended-Vehicle using a Fuel-cell as the extender. But is that really much of an improvement over the Volt?

    In the end, I keep coming back to the same conclusion, the E-REV technology gives commuters more benefit for less money than the hydrogen fuel cells.
     
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  2. In an ideal world, it would be true. Fuel cell would be the best EREV technology. However, currently, it is bulky in size and expensive to implement.

    But if the technology can improve to the point where the similar powered fuel cell is more compact and cheaper than an ICE, I am sure you will see them everywhere...
     
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  3. "I often think...these should be plug-in fuel cell vehicles. After all, they have a battery, they should have a plug."

    Daimler has that idea.

    Peace
     
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  4. "Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn said hydrogen cars are unviable as a future technology just two weeks ago."

    Not exactly... He said "currently". One week before that VW partnered with Ballard, a fuel cell company, to promote their agenda and to promote VW's HyMotion.

    Peace
     
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  5. "While that's short of President Obama's ambitious goal of 1 million such cars in 2015, it will outnumber the hydrogen vehicle population by two to three orders of magnitude."

    A hydrogen car can be one with a fuel cell or combustion motor of sort. You only need to characterize the burn to be a hydrogen one in the latter. [H2 -- 5-7% to 100% of the combustion charge.]

    Therefore, the claimed "two to three orders of magnitude" is nullified.

    Peace
     
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  6. @Kid Marc: Not clear what you're trying to convey here.

    Are you saying that because H2 is bound into the more complex hydrocarbons in gasoline that a gasoline car is burning hydrogen?

    If it wasn't clear from context, let me say here, what was (clearly) meant was: "...it will outnumber the *hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle* population by two to three orders of magnitude."

    Was that not clear?
     
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  7. @John

    "Are you saying that because H2 is bound into the more complex hydrocarbons in gasoline that a gasoline car is burning hydrogen?"

    Hilarious, John... You are saying "what was (clearly) meant..." on one side, yet interpret "... characterize the burn to be a hydrogen one..." as H2 bound to gasoline (given the combustion charge numbers). To answer your question, no.

    "If it wasn't clear from context, let me say here, what was (clearly) meant was: "...it will outnumber the *hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle* population by two to three orders of magnitude.""

    The problem lies with trying to make the terms *hydrogen* and *fuel cell* synonymous. An H2 fuel cell car is a subset of the H2 car/vehicle.

    "Was that not clear?"

    Crystal! :D

    Peace
     
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  8. I am in the camp that says this is just a bad idea all around. What we want is a replacement non-polluting fuel in our car that doesn't take up much more space than a gas tank. Both hydrogen tanks and batteries take up a lot more space. Hydrogen tanks are not likely to get much smaller than current designs for various trade-off reasons. More compact hydrogen storage is possible in hydrides but then you have weight problems similar to batteries. I am sure there are better storage solutions in development, but my point is none are much better than batteries.

    Battery improvement on the other hand, looks very promising with 3x improvement expected to be on the market in a couple of years, and 10x possible in the future. (con't next post)
     
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  9. 3x battery improvement See http://enviasystems.com/ is enough to be equivalent to hydrogen storage.

    Electricity distribution already exists, we have it in our homes, and we can produce our own with solar panels. Hydrogen will be available only through big business like your local gas stations.

    Once people get on to the idea that having a fully charged battery every morning is more convenient that going to a gas station, and realize that even on long trips, having a meal while your car is charging is not onerous, they will realize H2 is no competition.

    H2 distribution will cost $100B +++ and be charged to the taxpayer. There is no need and no rational for a more expensive fuel.
     
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  10. Roy,

    3X improvement in the next couple of years? Doubtful. Envia may have some large improvements, but there is a big difference between some cell tests and a full market introduction.

    You are incorrect in suggesting that H2 cannot and will not ever be produced in the home. See http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/04/hprize-20130424.html.

    H2 distribution won't be easy or cheap, but it is not necessarily going to be charged to the taxpayer. Interestingly, most of the EVSE in the U.S. has been paid for by the taxpayer but you don't seem to have a problem with it. Double standard?
     
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  11. FC's or as those who know them well call the foolcells as they are unlikely to ever be worth doing cost effectively and they once everything is included, they are no more eff, etc than a ICE run on gasoline but 10+ x's the costs of both H@ and the equipment.

    It's hard to beat EV/battery drive in eff or cost effectiveness when done right. Sadly most of what we get are overweight, over cost and overtech ones instead of the light, aero, medium tech ones we need.
     
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  12. All of the OEMs are researching fuel cells, so I don't think that your characterization of "those who know them well" is correct. I think you mistakenly put yourself in that category.

    They are much more efficient than the ICE (albeit not as efficient as a battery), and the costs are much higher currently, but the costs are much higher for EVs too because both are trying to play catch-up on an incumbent technology that has a 100-year head start.

    An FCV beats a battery in range and refueling times. Until something drastic changes, that's an immutable fact.

    Agreed that the current EVs could stand to lose some weight though...
     
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  13. The solution to the U.S. oil 'addiction' is in the continued adoption of electric vehicles. I have a background in chemistry and have driven an EV for over a year. Hydrogen will NEVER be viable as a widespread fuel for cars. Eventually & inevitably, market forces will lead people to the most EFFICIENT car and that is one powered by an electric motor!
     
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  14. No doubt an electric vehicle will be in every drive way soon enough.
    Obviously the electric drive will be run by a battery of some varying size and type.
    The debate should be over what source of energy keeps that battery charged.
    Wall plug or onboard or both.
    Saying hydrogen will NEVER be viable is pretty bold. To many engineers are working to prove you wrong.
    I hear batteries will be 3x to 10x capacity some day but yet I don't even see prototypes running around anywhere. Do you? I do see ~200 hydrogen vehicles.
    With all the different driver types out there variety will win out.
    You can always generate hydrogen at home with a plug in or natural gas generator.
    So $100 billion dollars +++ is just a smoke screen to force us to go to the gas
     
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  15. Electric car range anxiety isn't terribly rational, but will soon be cured. Hydrogen anxiety isn't particularly rational,but it can never be cured.Can you say Hindenberg? On every rational comparison point electric wins over fuel cell. Why keep trying?
     
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  16. George, you should know that the H2 did not cause the Hindenburg disaster. The outside of the dirigible was covered in rocket fuel. The H2 did ignite, but the fire had already begun.

    It's important not to try to scare the public unnecessarily, don't you think?

    You are wrong about the "every rational comparison" point. Range and refueling times. What say you about those two?
     
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  17. Hydrogen as a fuel source is a scam. These are just more-expensive batteries.
     
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  18. Chris, fuel cells are electrochemical devices, true, but they are not batteries since their reactants are external. Better brush up on your technology before bashing it.
     
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  19. Hydrogen as a fuel source for cars is a lousy choice, aside from the life cycle issues, with the fuel cell stacks themselves, short life cycles. the next question is where do you get your fuel. Since hydrogen in a gas form is very light and you need a lot of it, you've got to store and dispense it under very high pressure, or cold liquid, or in some sort of anhydride mix that you can break the hydrogen out of to feed to the fuel stack, complicated. Then the question of the hydrogen it self, most of the hydrogen used today is taken from reformed Natural Gas, where the hydrogen is striped from it in a high temperature steam process. This begs the question why not just use the CNG, burn it in normal ICE with minimal mods, it's cheap, got lots.
     
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  20. Mike, there are answers to your questions.
    1. The durability of fuel cells is currently being improved every day through research, just like batteries.
    2. Currently, we use compressed gas, but that may not be the storage technology that wins in the end. Again, much research being conducted.
    3. Lots of waste H2 being produced, H2 can be produced through electrolysis, research into H2 production by algae currently underway.
    4. Fuel cells are at least twice as efficient as ICEs, and there are no emissions at the tailpipe, so that's why you use fuel cells and H2.
     
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  21. What is the current status of capacitors? From what I understand, can't they be charged quickly (for long hauls) and then their charge is transferred to the batteries?

    If that's the case, why are we even talking about another energy source?
     
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  22. This is a link to the research I was citing: http://mitei.mit.edu/news/novel-ultracapacitor
     
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