By on March 15, 2013

 

Volkswagen has been tinkering with hydrogen for longer than I can remember. Yesterday, CEO Martin Winterkorn said it was all for naught. Hydrogen fuel cells are unlikely to become a cost-effective way to power cars in the near future, Winterkorn told Automotive News at Volkswagen’s press conference in Wolfsburg. He said it’s not Volkswagen’s fault:

“I do not see the infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles, and I do not see how hydrogen can be produced on large scale at reasonable cost. I do not currently see a situation where we can offer fuel cell vehicles at a reasonable cost that consumers would also be willing to pay.”

Automotive News takes that as an indicator that VW won’t join a list of global automakers that want to roll out fuel cell vehicles in the 2015-2020 time-frame, among them Toyota allied with BMW, a Nissan-Renault-Daimler-Ford alliance, Hyundai, Honda, and more.

Instead, VW is seen to embark on a somewhat belated diesel plug-in hybrid strategy, while hybrid pioneer Toyota does not have a problem envisaging fuel cell vehicles at a reasonable cost. Two years ago already, Toyota’s chief engineer Satoshi Ogiso told TTAC that an affordable hydrogen-powered car in this decade is “his job.”

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48 Comments on “Reshuffling The Stacks: Volkswagen Bets On Hybrids While Toyota Thinks Hydrogen Is A Winner...”


  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Aside from the infrastructure, where are they going to find all the precious metals needed to make several million fuel cells per year?

  • avatar
    klossfam

    VW is correct but the reality is that what we REALLY need at present are small, turbo diesels (like many of the current VW products) that get 50+ mpg on the highway. Of course, BIG OIL doesn’t want the second biggest car market using HALF the petro products, so it will not be happening in the near future.

    The discussion is actually not even about ‘technologies’…It is about government and big business.

    • 0 avatar

      And suppressed technology.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Please stop with the conspiracy theories. Diesels account for 40% of car sales in Europe – why hasn’t ‘Big Oil’ stopped them?

      But yes, VW is right. Hydrogen is a non-starter, but they should have known that years ago.

      • 0 avatar
        klossfam

        Not a conspiracy theory…It has to do with usage and size of market. Yes, Europe is a BIG market (and actually close to 70% of sales are diesel BTW) but the fuel usage is FAR less than North America (or China – the biggest market) due to typical distances traveled and number of vehicles – you NEED a car in North America in most locations, not so much in say Belgium.

        Think about HALF the gasoline sold by big oil in North America going away? A lot of those companies might ‘go away’ or be severely limited in making mammoth profits…Lessened consumption is not remotely in their best interest…Who are the best funded lobbyists in DC…The oil companies…Just simple business facts, nothing more.

    • 0 avatar

      People keep talking about BIG OIL as if it’s some kind of big deal, but in reality all their might cannot even get Keystone XL approved. BIG GREEN is what’s really powerful, and Big Oil is just a myth made up by the enviros to scare people. Judge by the deeds not words.

      Also, diesels are dirty. VW diesels are ok at first, but in a three years they smoke and spew NOx with the best of the train engines.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Pete where are you located? Keystone is a BIG deal in Oil-berta, but I am in Winnipeg right now for work and haven’t heard a whisper about it.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Diesels have to pass semi-annual emissions testing in ON just like gasoline-engined cars. And they generally don’t have any more difficulty, either.

      • 0 avatar
        Remi

        Diesel are actually pretty clean nowadays, even more so if you consider CO2 emissions. The SCR technology is pretty mature (it’s on all big rigs) and the particulate filters work pretty well.

        If you really think BIG OIL has no power, I have a beach front property in Nebraska you might be interested in.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Diesels remain a niche in the US because:

    1. Gasoline is cheap and plentiful. I’ll know it isn’t when the F-150 slips to #2 or 3 in sales.
    2. GM 350 diesel memories from the 80s.
    3. VW Rabbit diesel memories from the 70s.
    4. M-B diesel memories from forever.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “M-B diesel memories from forever.”

      Yet a huge number of these are still on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Kunundrum

      How about the GM diesel from 78-85 those were just awful. They might have made the most damage the reputation of diesel in north America than anything else.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Current Bosch CP4.x injector pumps are not helping matters. VW has been having issues with these, but they are not alone.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      gslippy, no sarcasm for a change, don’t you think emissions regs on diesel engines and diesel fuel refining requirements in states like CA also limit the market?

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        Sounds like you’re more conversant than I am on the subject; I don’t know that answer.

        I’m just considering the consumer side of the equation: loud, stinky, and unreliable diesels of the past have killed the US diesel market for decades.

        Another factor is that diesel used to be available only at (seedy) truck stops – not so appealing to soccer moms of the 1980s. I’m amazed at the widespread availability of diesel in the US today, while the diesel car/truck market hasn’t seemed to grow that much.

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          Well, I just stumbled over this quote, gs, while “researching” (dreaming) about my future Wrangler purchase. CAFE discussion with Tony Petit, Wrangler chief engineer.
          ————————————-
          Using some currently available technologies would be obvious avenues to boosting gas mileage, even in a bulky Wrangler. Diesel engines are a popular solution in Europe, where fuel taxes make that fuel more cost-effective than gasoline.

          “I personally own a diesel Grand Cherokee,” said Petit. “I like diesels for their torque and fuel economy.” So diesel is the obvious solution for Wrangler, right?

          Wrong. The problem with diesel vehicles in the U.S. is that the fuel is often more expensive than gasoline. Worse yet, stringent U.S. pollution limits make the smog-cleaning hardware on diesels prohibitively expensive. “Each business case has to stand on its own,” Petit said. “The emissions regulations are very challenging. That’s all I can say.”

  • avatar
    Oelmotor

    VW falling asleep behind the wheel again, I´ll place my bet with Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      Dorian666

      Going on Toyota’s current performance , I will place my bet with VW .

      At least VW is moving the posts with the Volkswagen XL1 and still has a

      hand in Fuel cells with Ballard.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        A two-seat high-mpg car for somewhere North of $70K is “moving the posts?” Not hardly. The days of hybrids as experimental showpieces ended with the G2 Prius. Note that Mr. Ogiso used the word “affordable” to describe Toyota’s strategy.

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        Why? VAG has done very well selling to China and Europe, but it has pretty comprehensively failed to lead the way on powertrain tech. They make nice diesels, but were hardly alone in that. Toyota dropped the hybrid on the market and everyone else has been chasing them since. The fact that a company which spends so much of R&D is focusing the majority of it on fuel cells (as is Honda, Ford and most of the rest of the industry)would have me thinking VAG are being a bit guilty of short-term-ism here. If someone can get it to work, the market disrupting effects could be very difficult to counter for those not moving in the same direction…

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      Gee, why has no one asked the following: Why is Toyota, the recognized leader in hybrids, touting hydrogen?

      Usually the leader doesn’t ditch its own tech. Or is it a feint? What does Toyota know?

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        Toyota doesn’t have anything left to prove in terms of hybrids. Now that they’ve got a development partner, they’re expanding into hydrogen.

        Whether it’s a truly dedicated push or simply some green P.R., I don’t know, but nobody who’s studied the economics of it can really take hydrogen seriously, not unless solar power becomes incredibly, inexplicably cheap.

        And even then, it’d be easier to use all that electricity to charge batteries.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Honda, only automaker actually offering FCVs to the public, won’t let you buy one, because each Clarity costs a bit more than the $600 a month you’re leasing it for.

    Frankly, I’d be surprised if they can get the cost of an FCV down to $1 million by 2020. And it’s not as if the land will be peppered with hydrogen refueling stations by then.

    Meanwhile, VW could probably develop a 100+ mpg plug-in diesel hybrid people can buy for less than the cost of an A6 within a year or two. The question is, WILL they?

  • avatar
    KixStart

    The energy density and refuelling rate (in terms of miles taken on board) of liquid H2 will probably be better than that of batteries for the foreseeable future. Consequently, H2 fuel cells still seem highly attractive. Liquid H2 can be delivered by tanker, like gasoline, and filling stations can serve a full load of range to several cars per hour, where even ultra-fast DC charging requires an hour to deliver 200 miles.

    Yet, I would not read too much into Mr. Ogiso’s comment that an “affordable hydrogen powered vehicle is his job.” I think failure IS an option at Toyota; a result nearly as important as a successful product would be “and what did this teach us?”

  • avatar
    L'avventura

    Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

    Japan has just announced (a few days ago) that they have successfully extracted methane hydrates from its waters and turned it into natural gas:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21752441

    Its a project Japan has been working on for a long time, they plan to fully commercialize it in 2018, and large scale production within the next decade. With methane hydrates Japan will have 90 years worth of natural gas.

    Natural gas can be converted to hydrogen with 80% efficiency. Meaning hydrogen will be one of the only natural resources that resource-poor Japan will be able to produce domestically.

    Hydrogen will energy-Independence for countries with a lot of natural gas (soon to be Japan).

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      80% efficiency is nice, but natural gas can be converted to natural gas at 100% efficiency and remarkably low cost. Shocking, isn’t it?

      So why not just run the cars on CNG rather than using expensive fuel cells? Both Toyota and Volkswagen (among others) offer cars running on CNG already.

      • 0 avatar
        b787

        Because internal combustion engines are at best 40% efficient (even if they are running on CNG instead of gasoline). Fuel cells, on the other hand, have efficiency of 60-80%, making overall efficiency between 50% and 60%, quite a bit higher than CNG cars.

        • 0 avatar
          Rada

          I would say 40% efficiency for ICE is way too high, it is only valid for large diesel engines. For normal car engines with Otto cycle it is not greater than 25%. Also, mechanical transmission loses another 20-30% of shaft power.

          The electric motors have remarkable efficiency. Those loud A/C drill motors with brushes that are supposedly not efficient actually have 90% efficiency. The electronically-switched motors have efficiency of 99%.

          • 0 avatar
            Brian P

            Real-world fuel cell efficiency is not 80%, either. Hydrogen is hellishly difficult to transport and store. If you want to transport or store it as a liquid, the energy cost of compressing and liquefying it is a substantial (approx 1/3) portion of the chemical energy content – that’s an efficiency-killer right there. Then you have to constantly refrigerate it on-board the vehicle, or deal with a slow but constant evaporative loss. It can be stored as chemical hydrides, but then you are carting around a substantial amount of extra weight.

            If you have natural gas … use natural gas as fuel. Don’t convert it to hydrogen. You CAN make fuel cells that work on natural gas, you know … and that’s if you insist on going that route as opposed to an internal combustion engine.

          • 0 avatar
            L'avventura

            Golly Gee Wilikers Brian, I’m hoping that you are aware that natural gas is a GAS, as its name suggests. To store it as liquid also requires refrigeration as well.

            Transportation and delivery of hydrogen and natural gas is equally difficult, however, hydrogen achieves much greater efficiency.

            Neither is economically feasible as a liquid, which is why Toyota has been spending large amounts of R&D on mass-production CF tanks for hydrogen.

          • 0 avatar
            Brian P

            Natural gas is much easier to deal with when compressed, than hydrogen is. Hydrogen reacts with a lot of metals and its molecules are so small that it leaks through many materials. Natural gas, on the other hand, presents no particular difficulty in this regard. And, for a given volume and pressure of compressed gas, natural gas (methane) has a higher energy content.

            I’ve been involved with a prototype hydrogen fueling project, so I have some personal knowledge of this. Unfortunately, I can’t say much about it, only that all of the measures that were necessary to protect against leaks and fire/explosion made it a very, very, VERY expensive proposition. You can’t use ordinary pipe fittings and sealant as you would with natural gas – the hydrogen will leak through them.

          • 0 avatar
            L'avventura

            @Brain

            The issues that hydrogen faces with transport and storage is essentially identical to CNG vehicles. They both require carbon-fiber reinforcement, and both are compressed to around 700 bar. They also have plastic liners inside of them to protect from corrosion.

            Here is CNG/Hydrogen tank failure study on the DOE website.
            http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/pdfs/cng_h2_workshop_8_wong.pdf

            Unless you are Iran (which has an active CNG vehicle program),you are not using metal tanks. All tanks are carbon fiber.

            Hydrogen, stored as a liquid, is a dead-end road, just as its with natural gas stored as a liquid. And I’m guessing that’s what you are working on based on your previous comment.

            Toyota (which is topic is partly about) is working on an automated method to make these CF tanks. They seem to reusing the carbon-fiber loom technology they developed with their LFA.

            Also, the 80% efficiency of conversion from natural gas to hydrogen has actually on the low-end. Hydrogen production methods such as steam-reforming can get near 99% efficiency when converting natural gas to hydrogen.

            http://chemeng-processing.blogspot.com/2010/05/hydrogen-production-by-steam-reforming.html

            Hydrogen is AT LEAST a decade away, and CNG looks to be a dead-end. Outside the fuel-cell stack & hydrogen tank the rest of the machine is basically an EV, meaning development can be conducted in parallel to EV/PHEV cars.

          • 0 avatar
            Brian P

            The tank is the least of your worries.

          • 0 avatar
            L'avventura

            @Brian

            Given you lack of facts, and your discussion of liquid storage of hydrogen, its pretty clear to me that your knowledge of CNG & hydrogen is very narrow. All the problems you present for hydrogen can also be applied to CNG as well.

            The reality is that natural gas and hydrogen both share a common drawback when it comes to storage and transportation, they are both gaseous and explosive.

            The reason hydrogen is looked at by Toyota is because it can also extend their EV program. Natural gas, which Japan will have a lot of in the next decade, can also be used to generate electricity. EVs will be the first beneficiary of natural gas. The eventual progression of a natural gas society will move that EV platform to hydrogen.

            There are massive hurdles, yes, but that is what a country with zero oil reserves has to plan for.

            Much like methane hydrate technology, which was said to be too difficult and costly, hydrogen will be a technology that they will have a near-monopoly in if they succeed.

    • 0 avatar
      Tinker

      If diesel sales are limited by memories of GM diesels in the mid-80s, then you better believe that HYDROGEN fuel is limited by the HINDENBERG fire in the 30s.

      After all, moldering GM junkers are less eye-catching than a mass incineration.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    HFCs sound nice but I bet it would cost $1 Trillion to replace our current liquid fuel infrastructure. Hell, I’d have to drive 50 miles today to refuel a Honda Civic CNG vehicle.

  • avatar
    claytori

    I have some experience designing a storage and distribution system for hydrogen gas. This stuff is both extremely dangerous and difficult to contain. The molecule is the smallest of any, and will get through even the best seal if everything isn’t perfect. When it does, it is the the most flammable and explosive gas. The range of concentrations in air that will explode is very wide (about 5% to 80%, from memory) as compared to natural gas (methane). When it burns, the flame is colorless. You can walk into it without seeing the flame. The industry literature recommends approaching the equipment with a corn broom ahead of you as a warning device. The safest way to store it is in liquid form, which requires cryogenic temperatures. Then there is the issue of generating the hydrogen…

    Hydrogen is used where nothing else does the job. The system I worked on was for an electric generator for a major power plant. The hydrogen is used to cool the generator and is (supposedly) kept away from air. In spite of all the precautions and safety systems used, there have been generator fires. These fires are highly destructive and impossible to put out until the hydrogen supply is cut off.

    Winterkorn is right. This technology is a non-starter as a vehicle fuel and doesn’t deserve any funding by anyone.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Your experience agrees with mine. The application was different but the issues are the same. I’m thinking that none of the people who are proponents of using hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles operated by the general public, have never actually been involved in the nuts and bolts of handling hydrogen, because if they were, they would realize how dangerous and stupid (and EXPENSIVE) the whole idea is. And that’s without even getting into the means by which the hydrogen is generated in the first place.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Oh the Humanities!!!


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