Breakthroughs in fuel cell programs and affordable natural gas prices are prompting the U.S. Department of Energy to take another look at hydrogen powered vehicles. In 2009, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, suggested cutting back funding to the Energy Department budge for hydrogen fuel cell research because the technology did not have an efficient way of storing and distributing the product. A closed door subcommittee meeting of the department’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee, (HTAC) is changing his mind. According to Bill Gibbons, a spokesman for the department, the cost of hydrogen production alone can be cut in half. The only challenge is getting enough stations to meet the needs of the consumer.
Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have the potential to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lower harmful emissions that cause climate change. FCVs run on hydrogen gas and emit no harmful tailpipe emissions. Automakers like Daimler, Hyundai, Toyota and Honda plan to start commercial production of fuel-cell cars in 2015, but say that lack of a widespread refueling network is the biggest obstacle to public adoption of these vehicles.
California is known as one of the largest automobile markets in the United States. They also have some of the strictest government environment regulations which has made them one of the leading markets for hybrid vehicles. Because of this, the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor feel that the demand for plug-in and electric cars will follow a similar pattern.
California was the first state were the Chevy Volt, Nissan leaf and the Ford Focus Electric was released, and where fuel cell vehicles are leased in small numbers. According to the CAR report the demand for cleaner technologies is fed by incentives such as tax credits, priority parking spaces for environmentally friendly vehicles, and because California has invested into infrastructure to accommodate the electric vehicle.
As GM launches its plug in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, and Nissan releases its all electric Leaf, Mercedes Benz will also be releasing it hydrogen powered vehicles to California residents. Mercedes is leasing the vehicles to a small groups of people in order to study the vehicles performance in real life conditions. This information will be provided to the Department of Energy to help them in their effort to meet stringent mileage and emission regulations.
Powered by an electric motor delivering 134 horsepower, the Mercedes F-Cell B-Class offers the advantages of a gas-powered conventional car, while using half the fuel and emitting only water. “We believe this is a great addition to our fast-growing portfolio of alternative fuel vehicles.” said Sascha Simon, head of advanced product planning at Mercedes-Benz USA. The information gathered by this study will help the effort in transforming the U.S. into a country that is fueled entirely by domestically produced energy
It seems that lately there has been much talk about the electric car. The automobile companies have been investing large amounts of money into electric cars with the hopes of becoming the leaders in the industry. The installation of more charging stations has not only made it more convenient to charge an electric car, but the installation of solar charging stations has made the drain on the power infrastructure less of a problem.
Still, the hydrogen car lurks in the background. Tucked away on the Torrance campus behind a security guard and a locked gate, a system designed to power Honda’s limited-production FCX Clarity sedan and other hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles uses solar panels to power a machine the size of a mini-refrigerator. This system converts water into hydrogen and oxygen gases and then pumpes the hydrogen directly into the car. No fossil fuels, no pollution, no additional strain on the power grid — and all done at home. It’s called a residential hydrogen refueler, and only one currently exists. According to statements from automakers like Honda, General Motors, Toyota, and Mercedes they hope to begin selling hydrogen-powered production cars to consumers as early as 2015.
Other hydrogen fuel-cell cars, only available by lease, exist. Made by GM, Toyota and Mercedes, most of the lessees are in “station clusters,” specific geographic areas that have hydrogen fueling stations. It’s the scarcity of these hydrogen stations that’s seen as one of the biggest barriers to mass adoption of fuel-cell cars.
The installation of these residential hydrogen refulers would solve this problem, but at what cost? Honda won’t say, but it’s a promising technology that advances the trend toward consumers detaching from a fossil-fuel economy and becoming more self-sufficient. It’s a future in which American homes are less reliant on a large-scale infrastructure — power grids, and water districts — and provide at least some of the solutions themselves via solar panels, gray-water systems, rainwater harvesting and home-based car-refueling technology.
Based on the Detroit Auto Show, the automobile industry may be undergoing a huge transformation. There are dozens of hybrid vehicles and countless pure battery-powered cars. The market for energy alternative cars remains weak, but if strict emissions standards are imposed, demands could soar.
Ford Motor Company had a very strong showing, winning North American Car of the Year and North American Truck of the Year Awards. The car award went to the Ford Fusion Hybrid and in the truck category, Ford’s Transit Connect van. This is the sixth win in the truck category for Ford, the most of any automaker.
The awards recognize the vehicles that are “benchmarks” in their category based on factors including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar. Vehicles must be new or “substantially changed” to be considered.
Some other memorable displays are: General Motors with their new Chevy Volt, Mercedes B Class pure hydrogen fuel cell car, Audis A8 which won the eyes on design and Chrysler’s Gem which has sold more than 40,000 since 1999 and reportedly owns about 70 percent of the electric vehicle market.
We have been hearing about electric cars lately and how auto companies are pushing to get them on the roads, but what ever happaned to the hydrogen car. Beyond the test market, hydrogen-powered cars seemed to be nothing more than research and development, but with new hydrogen technology it is no longer the dangerous fuel we were reluctant to put on the roads.
At last month’s Los Angeles auto show Honda introduced the Honda FCX Clarity, the world’s first production fuel-cell car. Befor this, BMW was leading the way in hydrogen development with their Hydrogen 7, a V12 internal combustion engine that can be powered by gasoline as well as liquid hydrogen. With a price tag of at least $250 000 only 100 celebrities and politicians have received a loaner car for evaluation and to provide feedback. The honda fuel cell car would also be quite expensive to buy, but once it goes into production for the public, the price would significantly go down.
Like the electic car, there is the problem of “fueling up”. According to H2stations.org, a website that tracks hydrogen refilling stations, there are only 10 certified filling stations in Canada (and those are used for industrial purposes), 38 in Europe and 49 in the U.S. (with more than half in California).
Honda tried to address the infrastructure problem with its experimental Home Energy Station, a self-contained unit that converts natural gas into hydrogen, but burning natural gas to produce hydrogen seems to just defeat the purpose.
President Obama’s goal of 1 million plug-in hybrids on U.S. roads by 2015 seems like a good idea for the environment, but is it really possible?
With new advances in battery technology, electric cars can go almost 100 miles on a charge. And for those who fear being stranded with a dead battery miles from a plug in, there is a gasoline engine as well. This range should be enough to suit up to 80% of U.S. drivers on the road. With federal government incentives for EV buyers, such as tax credits of up to $7,500 for buyers of the first 200,000 vehicles from each manufacturer, this could be true. According to Jason Wolf, an executive at Better Place, a Palo Alto firm aiming to provide charging services for plug-in drivers. “Over 70% of major manufacturers have some kind of mass plug-in coming in the next two years.”
This however, involves a huge change to the nation’s electric grid infrastructure. People charging cars in their garages may need to upgrade their home circuits, which often requires permits, building inspections and other headaches. Neighborhood upgrades like new transformers would also be needed. These upgrades would be expensive, and in the interest of encouraging electric cars, the utility companies would most likely pay for it through our electric bills. In the end we need to ask ourselves, “Would the emissions released by the utility companies making extra electricity really be less than the emissions from the car itself?”