Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars More Viable With Cheaper, More Efficient Electrolysis?

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Hyundai Tucson Fuel-Cell vehicle enters production

Hyundai Tucson Fuel-Cell vehicle enters production

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Whatever you think of hydrogen-powered vehicles, recent technology-sharing deals have shown the automakers themselves are beginning to push towards fuel cell vehicles.

Among other issues, it's hydrogen's production causing a few issues for the burgeoning industry--it's neither very efficient, nor suitably cheap.

Both these factors are now about to change--or at least, are heading in the right direction.

As Green Car Congress reports (via Autoblog Green), the cost of producing hydrogen through electrolysis--the process of splitting hydrogen from water--is starting to fall.

It's as a result of the technology used for the electrolysis process steadily improving, making the process more efficient and liberating more hydrogen from the same energy input.

UK-based ITM Power has reduced the production cost of hydrogen from $9.57 per kilogram last year, to $6.44/kg--a reduction of 32.7 percent. Those figures include a ten-year capital amortization period. After amortization, that cost falls to $4.13 per kilogram, 22.9 percent down on last year's equivalent figure.

This has come as a result of an 11 percent improvement in output from new, more efficient "stacks", the modules in which hydrogen is extracted from electrolysis. ITM can now produce up to 27.9 kg of hydrogen per day, per stack (446 kg per day in total), with 77 percent efficiency.

What all of this means is that the hydrogen itself can be sold cheaper, and whatever vehicle it powers will be part of a more efficient, less energy-intensive system.

While there are few direct comparisons in the automotive world to illustrate the cost, ITM does compare the cost of running Hyundai's ix35 (or Tucson) fuel-cell vehicle against that of its diesel equivalent, sold in Europe. While the diesel would cost 45.4 cents per mile to run (based on a European combined economy figure of 41 mpg), the fuel cell vehicle would cost only 22.7 cents per mile.

These figures would naturally change in the U.S, where diesel doesn't cost over $8 per gallon, and hydrogen production still has a way to go before it's a truly low-energy process.

But, like electric vehicles, hydrogen appears to be taking the baby steps it needs to one day become a viable alternative fuel.


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