November 27, 2014

Are Toyota, Honda and Hyundai Correct? Is it Hydrogen for Clean Cars, Not Batteries?

by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News

When three major car companies shun battery electric cars for hydrogen fuel cells, people should sit up and take notice.

Hyundai has a fuel cell vehicle on the market in California. Honda has leased them there before and has new model on the way. And Toyota has just launched a fuel cell model for California and other states. The companies, of course, offer the hydrogen fueled cars in their home and other markets as well.

(A little fuel cell history here. Most other car companies have dabbled off and on in fuel cell vehicles. GM still runs a fleet of them for long-term durability testing. Other companies keep some for testing too.)

In general, Toyota and Honda have more experience – and more sales success – in alternative fueled cars of any kind than any other car companies on the planet. If they say hydrogen is the way to go, then maybe it is. No one should ignore experience and success.

If anything, there should be more discussion, more debate, to choose what's best for the future of automobiles. To get that discussion going, here's some obvious starting points to talk about:

So keeping score, both are even at point: Cheap infrastructure for battery electrics verses fast (almost gasoline like) refueling with hydrogen.

Yet there are two more comparisons that need to be made, and both will go to hydrogen fuel cells. One is the ease of consumer adoption and the other is, I dare say, profits and money making, business opportunities.

With no range anxiety and similar pumping of a fuel, consumers would feel almost right at home with hydrogen fuel cell cars. Plugging-in and waiting may be fine for smart phones, but on a busy day who has time to wait for a car to recharge? Not everyone has a nice neat garage for home, overnight charging.

Then there's this profit thing. This is a biggie. You see, way back when, a president ago, hydrogen was being promoted and the oil companies weren't particularly resistant to the notion of fuel cell cars. They'd supply the hydrogen still be in the fueling game after all, presumably making some money at it. (They make no money to speak of with battery electric cars. This doesn't please them. Thus they're resistant to rechargeable cars.)

Sure, power companies stand to make money recharging cars, but it's a fraction of what oil companies make on their fuels.

So, if a rapid switch to zero emission vehicles is more important for the future of the planet than which technology wins, then perhaps a study or studies should made to answer the following and many more questions about the business aspect of hydrogen:

If it can be proven - shown in these studies perhaps - that oil companies can profit handily from the generation and distribution of hydrogen – even clean, renewable hydrogen – then they might jump at the chance. The switch to hydrogen might be rapid. And that's what we want.

This you probably know. The oil companies really don't care about oil. They care about profits. Money. (Do you think oil companies have a burning desire to go trudging over the Arctic ice scrounging for oil, when – if they could – be building solar farms in Arizona or the deserts of the Middle East to make highly profitable clean hydrogen fuel?)

Change happens rapidly when lots of money can be made. Show oil companies a path to profitable hydrogen, then they'll be on board.

Government would want in on the game too: Laws would have to written so that the oil companies steadily reduce the upstream carbon content from the generation of hydrogen to ensure a steady reduction in carbon emissions.

Maybe then Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are just being realistic. Big oil has to be involved in switching to a clean, carbon-free economy if it's going to happen. Big oil just needs to be convinced that the gold in the hills is really hydrogen.

(For the record, I personally think there are even better options than either rechargeable batteries or hydrogen, namely metal-air fuel cells or flow cells. But I can't prove this or build either industry in my garage.)

 

Toyota FCV Mirai

Honda FCX Clarity

Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

 

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