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.


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