This just in: Hydrogen fuel cell cars are still dead

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"This just in: Hydrogen fuel cell cars are still dead"

hydrogen.jpgThat Saturday Night Live-esque headline was inspired by a story in the Wall Street Journal today:

Top executives from General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. Tuesday expressed doubts about the viability of hydrogen fuel cells for mass-market production in the near term and suggested their companies are now betting that electric cars will prove to be a better way to reduce fuel consumption and cut tailpipe emissions on a large scale.

Really? Hydrogen cars of dubious viability? Who ever could have guessed that in a million years? And electric cars are “a better way to reduce fuel consumption and cut tailpipe emissions on a large scale”? I’m shocked, shocked anyone could come to that conclusion [pun intended].

Speaking at the Geneva auto show, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told reporters that recent advances in lithium-ion batteries indicate that future electric cars might be able to travel 300 miles, or nearly 500 kilometers, before they need to recharge, making them much more practical as a mass-market product.

“If we get lithium-ion to 300 miles, then you need to ask yourself, Why do you need fuel cells?” Mr. Lutz told reporters. He added that fuel-cell vehicles are still far too expensive to be considered for the mass market. “We are nowhere [near] where we need to be on the costs curve,” he said.

So who feels stupid about killing the electric car now??? [I can hear Lutz on the new show, Law and Order SUV, “I’m so sorry. It was all a terrible mistake. Yes, I … I … really love electric cars. I always have. I would never intentionally do anything to harm them. You’ve got to believe me…. Of course, global warming is still a crock of shit. But EVs are my life!”]

At a separate event at the show, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe echoed the concern about the high costs of fuel cells and noted the lack of an infrastructure to produce and distribute hydrogen fuel to a wide swath of consumers. These factors leave him with the impression that “it will be difficult to see the spread of fuel cells in 10 years’ time,” Mr. Watanabe said.

The comments indicate a shift in the auto industry’s tone regarding fuel cells, especially at GM, which has spent the past two years highlighting its fuel-cell technologies as one of many initiatives it is pursuing to reduce petroleum consumption.

Looks like those premature obituaries for hydrogen fuel cell cars weren’t premature:

 

 

 

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32 Responses to This just in: Hydrogen fuel cell cars are still dead

  1. geneva show is great this year looking forward to next

  2. Lou Grinzo says:

    I am truly amazed at how hard it is to kill the idea that “hydrogen fuel cell cars” are “the” solution to our transportation challenges.

    I’ve heard this countless times, from everyone from casual observers to longtime, exceedingly smart environmentalists. I think people fall in love with the whole “it emits nothing but water vapor” part and never examine the incredible hurdles it will take to engineer a fuel cell and on-board storage that will work acceptably well in a car under all manner of conditions, plus the challenge of generating all that hydrogen in a way that makes it a better deal than an EV or PHEV.

    And yes, I recommend Joe’s book, The Hype About Hydrogen, every time. It’s still the best treatment I’ve seen on the topic. I also tell people to look up the papers by Ulf Bossel, who has done some very thorough analysis of HFC vs. EV transportation.

  3. Isaac McIsaac says:

    A few things..THE NEAR TERM is the operative phrase , Also IF (a big if) we get 300 to 500 mile range. >

    “Toyota plans to have a test fleet of plug-ins by 2010 using lithium-ion batteries that are more expensive than nickel-metal-hydrides and carry more safety and reliability risks.

    “We know it needs to be more than seven miles, but it won’t be 40,” Jaycie Chitwood, senior planner for advanced technologies, said of Toyota’s target range.”
    So who’s got those batteries???

    Pug in hybrids that burn fossil fuels are quick fixes that can easily evolve into FCV.( which is Larry Burns’ postion). But given exponetial function in 15 to 20 years the transportation sector is back to where it is today in terms GHG emissions with hybrids. ALSO the infrastructure .. Let’s imagine that there are long range, large, fast EVs.
    90% of European and 60% of North American drivers DO NOT have garages or driveways with easily accesible electrical supplies> infrastucture?? Most commentators extoll plugging in the car overnight>solar power off the table, unless there is some plan to keep the sun up 24/7. or build huge batteries somewhere.
    Quick charge??? convienience is a big part of driving. so,the strain on a conventional electrical grid would also require huge infrastructure investments. EG to charge a 35kw battery or cacpacitor in ten minutes would require a 250KW connection. It is possible but also very expensive. Currently things like aluminium smelters are the only concerns so equiped. Then, the question of where all that eletrical energy comes from must be adressed. If its “unreliable” sources like solar, wind or tidal, which are desirable (no GHGs) hydrogen is a much better option as it can be stored and transported . FCV ARE ELECTRIC CARS.

  4. Jim Bullis says:

    The previous comment of 3:11 PM shows the kind of cars that the automotive industry thinks people will buy. The only hint of efficiency is in the low profile, but the magnitude of engine power advertised shows such efficiency gains matter very little.

    When electric motors are used to power such cars, and the same kind of performance claimed for these models will still be delivered, the switch to electric will be found to mean very little.

    As we have discussed before, it all depends on where the energy comes from. My looks at the costs of wind and solar still come out with discouraging answers.

    A comment I posted in response to a Financial Times article says more completely what I am trying to say about how dangerous it is to have too much enthusiasm for electric cars, as such.

    Green General Motors
    by Jim Bullis 04 Mar 2008 07:30 PM

    Can GM make a go of greener technology?

    Green technology at GM might not be going in the right direction. There is a widely held misconception that electric vehicles are automatically green.

    When the main concern was smog in places like Los Angeles, the electric car was a real solution, where power for the car was generated at a power plant outside of the basin. By diluting the combustion products, and scattering them over the world, the situation seemed reasonable. And there are some efficiency advantages for large power plants.

    But the efficiencies are not that much better than the automobile engine, and for coal fired power plants, the amount of CO2 due to use of coal means that Green House Gas emissions from electric operation are about the same as gasoline powered cars. And CO2 is now known to be the critical world problem.

    But the GM “answer” is to use the “extended range electric vehicle” as a practical way to “shift more energy to transportation.” (See this statement on page 12 of a presentation by Peter Savagian, Engineering Director, —, General Motors at http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/PDF/presentation-sm.pdf )

    This would be an ideal plan if electric power were to come from sources such as wind or solar apparatus. With natural gas fueled power plants it would not be a big step backward. But the reality in the US is that coal is almost free compared to other fossil fuels, and the capital investment needed to make wind or solar systems that could carry the added load is not yet economically viable. Like water runs down hill, the economic balance will run down to a comfortable and inexpensive level, where large, inefficient cars, will use electric motors powered from coal fired generators.

    Well meaning people will feel green about this, since they will think their cars are “zero emission” vehicles.

    Good use can be made of electric motors, as in plug-in hybrids, etc., but these are only “green” if the vehicles are constructed to use a lot less energy.

    GM will make a go of green technology when they pursue an approach such as that shown at http://www.miastrada.com. (I have an interest in Miastrada Corp.)
    ——————
    (End of paste)

    It remains to be fully considered whether it will be possible to get meaningful government action to ban coal. I think this might eventually be possible if we first cut way back on the amount of energy needed from the sources that would then remain.

  5. Will Koroluk says:

    I think Lou Grinzo, the first poster, nailed an important point: falling in love with an idea. That’s why a few folks are still toying with cars running on compressed air. That’s why quick, cheap nuclear fusion holds such appeal.
    So we point out some pretty obvious engineering problems, and make jokes about perpetual motion machines. And people agree–while thinking to themselves (yes, but . . . )
    We can’t be too hard on them, though, because a lot of those “yes, but . . .) notions yielded results in the end. Airplanes come to mind.
    That’s why we must keep reporting research efforts in all sorts of funny sounding fields, but it must be balanced reporting, something the mainstream media doesn’t always manage to achieve. Too much boosterism; not enough sober journalism.
    That’s why I like this blog (which I just discovered very recently): Sober journalism.

  6. Joe says:

    Thank’s Will! Glad to have you on board.

  7. Elbarto says:

    There will not be a technofix.

    Personal transport based on hauling 1.5-3 tonnes of metal to move a 0.08 tonne occupant is DEAD whether it is powered by petrol, electricity, compressed air, corn juice, whatever.

    The automotive corpse will twitch for a few more decades until folks realise the simple solution is to contract settlements to enable walking and cycling for 95% of transport.

    I’m all for the advancement of technology. Technology such as cars that perpetuate obsecenely low energy efficiency to achieve their objective is evidence of human de-evolution.

    Humans should be achieving more and more with less and less energy, the opposite is actually what is happening.

    A standard petrol powered car uses ~0.5% of the energy contained in the fuel to move the occupant. An electric car weighing roughly the same might be a little better at ~2%. Surely humans are smart enough to do better than this to move around?

  8. Isaac McIsaac says:

    If anyone is interested in a clear explanation of why HYDROGEN, read David Sanborn Scott’s
    ” Smelling Land:the Hydrogen Defense against Climate Catastrophe”
    Written by an actual engineer, not a car salesman or a Journalist or a blogger.
    Published by(get this) Natural Resources Canada. Once you’ve read that, look up Hydro Quebec’s production Data, do some Arithmatic and you’ll see where the fuel will come from. Rats, another “Foreign government…”
    By the way Elbarto just try and live in Montreal Nov to april without 1.5 tons of heated metal to get around in

  9. Earl Killian says:

    Besides the inherent inefficiency of hydrogen vehicles, there is the really big problem that impossible to introduce them fast enough to make a difference. We need 80% GHG emissions reductions in the U.S. by 2050. Our population is going to grow by 40% between now and then, which means 86% per capita reductions are required.

    Look at hybrids in the U.S. They were introduced in the 2001 model year. They managed to reach 2.1% market share in 2007. The nation’s vehicle fleet won’t seriously be affected until they reach 50% of sales, which might be 10 years from now. This is for a technology that is completely compatible with no barriers to adoption. FCVs and BEVs will find it to difficult to achieve this rate of adoption because they do have barriers to adoption (they might be small in the case of BEVs, but the infrastructure issue is huge for FCVs). Plug-in hybrids could duplicate the HEV adoption curve.

    Let’s say the fuel cell lifetime and cost issues could be solved by 2020 (I think the fuel cells are at one fifth of their lifetime targets right now). By 2026 they are less than 2% of the market. They might reach 50% of the market by 2040.

    But to alter the 2050 vehicle fleet significantly, we need technology that reaches 50% of the market by 2030. FCVs wont’ do that. HEVs and PHEVs will, and BEVs (which don’t have technological problems to solve like FCVs) will have a place as well.

    And if FCVs did manage to achieve 50% earlier than I guess above, their fuel will cost three times as much to drive per mile as a BEV if it is made from renewable energy, which it must if we are to meet our greenhouse gas emissions targets.

    FCVs are a lousy bet.

  10. Earl Killian says:

    @Isaac McIsaac
    I read the online chapters 19 and 42 of Smelling Land, and I wasn’t impressed. His argument for dismissing alternatives in chapter 19 is flawed. In chapter 42 he envisions a future that seems to not be consistent with reality. I did not see him address the inefficiency problem of using hydrogen to transmit energy.

    I don’t understand the Hydro Quebec comment, as their production numbers aren’t all that large. They could not, for example, produce enough hydrogen to power U.S. passenger vehicles.

  11. StockPromoter07 says:

    It’s good to hear BP & GM talk about alternative fuels, but 50 years to implement is too long.

    http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/05/news/companies/bigoil_hydrogen/index.htm

    Perhaps this link will spark more attention:

    http://www.chevrolet.com/electriccar/

    It is GM’s electric concept car the Chevy Volt. If more people begin to demand alternative fuel cars, we should be able to speed the rate at which the technology is developed.

    We have started an Investor Forum where Investors can meet and discuss topics like this:

    http://investor-forum.thesubway.com/

  12. newton2 says:

    sorry that there aren’t portals yet for ya’ll to actually be up to speed on primary/critical technology research…but for the time being try “Zhang Group” @vt.edu…might start with his 2008 publications….very ‘tranparent’site..20x the energy density of Lithium ain’t nothing to sneeze at…stay tuned this fall for the biorefinery…butanol and/or hydrogen…more later…N2

  13. Seems to be a lot of confusion on hho to improve gas milage. Here is the site I use to get information, hope it helps.

    http://tinyurl.com49ww7w

    lg

  14. Electric vehicles has been around for several years now. I think it must have come first than the hybrid cars.

    The first electric vehicles were direct conversion from cars fitted with electric motors and a dozen of batteries. That was the first appearance of EV’s that eventually lost popularity

    coz of crude design and the inconvenience of long charging hours.

    But with the introduction of fuel cells EV’s got a new life and has a promising future to become the main choice in urban transport.

    Related Sites:

    Electric Plug-in Cars;
    Hybrid Electric Cars

  15. Jermo says:

    Hmmm. It seems to me that we have a large ocean of water ready to be tapped, i.e., desalinzed. That “distilled water” could be served at service stations throughout our nation (and world) for a lot less than $4/gal. We know that combustion of hydrogen is non-polluting. What pollution will occur if millions of electric vehicles are driven? Electromagnetic forces? Will there be health risks from the amount of electric fields in the air?

    With some retooling of our motors we should alleviate the corrosive effects of hydrogen on internal parts. A car would need just enough stored fuel to start it. Once started, an on-board hydrogen electrolysis unit takes over to produce fuel as needed. It will take a strong outcry from the people of this Nation to make it happen, so let’s do it. I have contacted my state represenatatives with this very plan. Retooling and remaking our infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles will create many new jobs, reduce pollution, and reduce our dependancy on oil.

    Europe already serves hydrogen at stations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ykl2PH2B-tM We need to keep it simple and safe. Serve noncombustible water, not hydrogen fuel.

    hydrogen paper link: http://www.hydrogenassociation.org/advocate/ad43fcev.htm

    [JR: You seem to have forgotten that you need massive amounts of energy to split hydrogen out of water, a very stable molecule. Hydrogen is a dead end (see here) — and zero-carbon hydrogen would cost more than four dollars a gallon.]

  16. Bashar says:

    Finally – the truth about hydrogen fuel cars is making its way to the mainstream. Marketing gurus have done a wonderful job of letting the average Joe think that hydrogen cells are the answer to the world’s problems. I recently blogged about this, and drew from various sources to show that the efficiency of hydrogen cells is about half that of conventional gasoline-powered engines. All hail the electric car! If anyone’s interested in the number, check out my posting on Aug 1st.

    Bashar
    http://www.solarphile.com

  17. Emily says:

    I ran across this site http://Easy-HHO-Conversion-Kit.com There are guides that show you how to add supplemental hydrogen fuel cells to your car’s engine. Instead of buying a completely converted car from a manufacturer, couldn’t you just do this to increase your gas mileage?

  18. just watching says:

    Just make the battery a standerd size, shape, connectors and voltage for quick change at a recharge station and the problem is solved. Wala electric autos every where with recharging stations as common as fuel stations are today.

  19. just watching says:

    The electric auto is not a new idea. The first to come to market was the Detroit electric. 1907 to 1939, some had a range up to 220 miles usimg the Ni-Fe cell. J Leno has one that is still running. A company from China is resurecting the company now so keep the faith in electrics.

  20. 564 says:

    Hydrogen and Fuel Cell project started Callux

    Instead collector on the roof: hydrogen power plant in the basement. Federal Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee, the pilot project “Callux” for domestic energy supply before.http://www.hydrogen-motors.com

  21. John Wells says:

    Australian Scientists Make Huge Automotive Breakthrough in Fuel-Cell Technology
    http://gas2.org/2008/08/03/australian-scientists-make-huge-automotive-breakthrough/
    Record-breaking Hydrogen Storage Materials For Use In Fuel Cells Developed
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071112133751.htm
    Cheap hydrogen fuel production could be possible
    http://www.igovernment.in/site/Cheap%2Dhydrogen%2Dfuel%2Dproduction%2Dcould%2Dbe%2Dpossible/
    Hydrogen from Algae
    http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?ch=specialsections&sc=biofuels&id=19438
    Nanoparticles Could Make Hydrogen Cheaper Than Petrol
    http://www.you.com.au/news/2680.htm
    ‘Major discovery’ from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution
    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html
    Psst! Hydrogen is the future!

    [JR: Psst! So is fusion. We need the present, however.]

  22. hydro cars is the best solution for oil crisis, how come they say its dead if there are lots of informations and kits being sold through the use of net, maybe oil companies were just trying to destroy the invention for their own profit.

  23. I’m excitedly waiting all the changes in technology and availability of vehicles in the near future!!!

  24. Matt says:

    For anyone that doubts the big 3 are in bed with the oil companies, the gas cap on my City Owned Ford F150 says “runs best on BP products”! There is a lot of “oh we believe in Lithium Batteries and not fuel cells” talk these days but the reality is, Japanese Manufactures are in fact developing these cars and are placing Hydrogen Refueling “test sites” in California as we speak. These cars will take .65 liters of Hydrogen to go 60 MPH down the road which takes 1 minute. I developed a Hydrogen Generator that can produce 3 liters per minute using 3.5 volts and 6 amps. Do the math. You could put this in a Honda Hydrogen Fuel Cell car and never need to refuel. Saudi Arabian Kings have nothing to offer the world but oil and we need it because of the upper crust greed. The less oil we need, the more they will cut production to artificially raise the price. You think $5.00 for a gallon of gas was expensive, wait until this summer. America is loosing its economic lead and fast. Our hard earned money is building foreign countries empires and at the rate we are going, WE will be an importing nation very soon and depend upon them to support us. If anyone could supply me with a Honda Fuel Cell Stack, I would be on the 6:00 Evening News selling a car that never needs fuel.

  25. hell of a lot nice guy says:

    JR said: Psst! So is fusion. We need the present, however.

    Can’t agree with you more JR. Show me a battery that provides a range of 200-500 miles for a mid size car that can be recharged in 5 minutes ready for prime time!

  26. sesli chat says:

    or anyone that doubts the big 3 are in bed with the oil companies, the gas cap on my City Owned Ford F150 says “runs best on BP products”! There is a lot of “oh we believe in Lithium Batteries and not fuel cells” talk these days but the reality is, Japanese Manufactures are in fact developing these cars and are placing Hydrogen Refueling “test sites” in California as we speak. These cars will take .65 liters of Hydrogen to go 60 MPH down the road which takes 1 minute. I developed a Hydrogen Generator that can produce 3 liters per minute using 3.5 volts and 6 amps. Do the math. You could put this in a Honda Hydrogen Fuel Cell car and never need to refuel. Saudi Arabian Kings have nothing to offer the world but oil and we need it because of the upper crust greed.

  27. curiousj says:

    Ok, I’m not going to get into anything here but say this: if you want some of these questions answered, Isaac McIsaac said it best. See http://www.smellingland.com to know more about the book, or read the ENTIRE book (not just chapter bits). Only reading certain chapters doesn’t give you the entire picture of Dr Scott’s practical theory. Or watch some of his interviews where it’s all there for you to listen to, in lamen’s terms….

    happy blogging.

  28. The electric auto is not a new idea. The first to come to market was the Detroit electric. 1907 to 1939, some had a range up to 220 miles usimg the Ni-Fe cell. J Leno has one that is still running. A company from China is resurecting the company now so keep the faith in electrics. thanks

  29. John says:

    I guess car companies are still in with the oil industry. We already bailed them out so they can go back to their old ways. Let supply and demand take over.

  30. VALERIE says:

    Thank you for your good humor and for allowing yourself to be convinced that this was the right show for you to work on.

  31. Emily says:

    The price of oil is the leading reason electric auto development and sales will be the biggest change in society in the years ahead. The big vehicle is about to be replaced due to economice reasons