It’s been said many a time that the problem with hydrogen as an energy storage system for cars is that it is always the future and never the present of transportation. Indeed, hydrogen has nearly fallen of the alt-fuel radar in recent years, as present-techs like hybrid and even electric drive have matured. But the dream is not dead. The great hydrogen hope now lives with General Motors, in the form of a new, lighter-weight fuel cell which GM says will be production-ready by 2015. The new cell is 225 lbs lighter and uses one-third less platinum than the systems being tested in GM’s 30-month “Project Driveway” Equinox fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs). That leaves more platinum for trimming Escalades, and has GM thinking that real-life series production of FCVs could be possible. GM’s Charles Freese tells Automotive News [sub]:
Our learning from Project Driveway has been tremendous. The 30 months we committed to the demonstration are winding down. But we will keep upgrades of these vehicles running and will continue learning from them while we focus efforts on the production-intent program for 2015. We will continue to use the Project Driveway fleet strategically to advance fuel cell technology, hydrogen infrastructure and GM’s vehicle electrification goals
Just when you thought hydrogen was dead, Honda comes up with a system that allows you to make homemade hydrogen, using nothing but free sunshine. In the grand tradition of hydrogen cars, the sunny technology is just not quite there yet. Read More >
The House has authorized a new package of industry aid in the form of research and development funds for advanced technology vehicles. H.R. 3246 still needs to be funded, but authorization is for up to $2.9b over the next five years. The AP reports that the bill would fund research on “technologies such as batteries for hybrid vehicles, electric cars, hydrogen fuel cells and infrastructure for the electric grid.” Notice something strange there? President Obama had previously moved to cut funding of hydrogen research, a move that DOE spokesfolks at the time explained by gently reminding that “the probability of deploying hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the next 10 to 20 years is low.”
California’s zero-emissions vehicle law could cost Toyota, darling of the environmental crowd, up to a billion dollars reports Bloomberg. That’s more than any other automaker is looking at. Why? Because by 2012, California will require that 3 percent of unit sales over a three-year period be zero-emissions models. Since Toyota has over 24 percent of the California car market (nearly double Honda, which is number two at 12.9 percent), it’s facing far stiffer requirements. And unlike Honda it doesn’t have a hydrogen fallback (although Honda’s FCX Clarity is not yet on sale). According to Bloomberg, Toyota will have to sell 16,000 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and EVs come 2012. “If you’re only discussing the cost of batteries and other components, a $1 billion cost for Toyota may be a stretch,” says Brett Smith of the Center For Automotive Research. “Add in all the things needed to support these vehicles — service, dealer training, marketing, warranties, new manufacturing equipment to get them into production, and [$1b] sounds reasonable” Toyota is declining comment on the exact cost of CARB compliance, but has already questioned whether PHEV demand will live up to enthusiast expectations.
Same as it ever was. Green Car Congress covers a DOE report (pdf) to the U.S. Congress on its $1.2b Hydrogen fuel cell development caucus, and the conclusion is clear: keep waiting. The DOE had harbored a shockingly naive hope that OEMs would be able to field 100k fuel cell vehicles by 2010, but the new report seems pretty clear on the chances of that happening. According to the report, “a 2008 independent study estimated that the high-volume manufacturing cost of automotive fuel cell systems (using current technology and assuming 500,000 units per year) would be $73/kW, which equates to almost $6000 for an 80-kW system. This current technology would be more than twice as expensive as internal combustion engine systems. And, based on the highest demonstrated durability to date, fuel cell systems would have a lifespan of approximately 1900 hours, which equates to about 57,000 miles and is still substantially lower than today’s estimated vehicular lifespan of 150,000 miles.”Sound familiar?
There’s a piece in the Sunday NY Times automotive section (we get it a day early) about a New York congressman, Eric Massa, who drove a Chevy Equinox fuel-cell vehicle from Corning, New York (his hometown) to DC as a demonstration of personal greenness, forward thinking and the potential of hydrogen-fueled vehicles. How is that possible; it’s 280 miles form Corning to DC and there are no hydrogen stations en route? Turns out greenmeister Massa actually drove two Equinoxes. One he drove from Corning to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he changed horses to the fully fueled second Equinox. How is that possible, since you’d think a fuel-cell Equinox would use a certain amount of hydrogen just getting to Harrisburg? Well, it turns out GM towed the Harrisburg Equinox– and also the Corning Equinox, which had to arrive there fully fueled– with a pair of hybrid Tahoes. So Massa actually used four cars and a fair amount of fuel, and produced a goodly amount of CO2, to get to Washington while “burning no fuel and producing zero emissions.”
The bailout-beggar line just got a little longer, as Green Car Congress reports that the US Fuel Cell Council is requesting a cool $1.17b of your hard-earned tax dollars (kudos for making the smallest handout request in months!). The money would come in the form of full funding for a number of programs authorized in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, including deployment programs; development of a refueling infrastructure; learning demonstrations; building domestic manufacturing capability; accelerating public-private research; and investing in fuel cell transit programs. And they aren’t leaving it there, either. A July 2008 study by the National Research Council estimated that a total public-private investment of about $200 billion would be required from 2008 to 2023 to support a transition from gasoline to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, at which point fuel cell vehicles would become competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles. Or, as we find so many causes for repeating, not. Though hydrogen fuel cells offer more long-term promise than say, ethanol, we’re still talking about some serious pie in the sky. At an appropriately astronomical cost too. Sorry kids, but if we’re to spend government money on something like this, I’d like to see it go towards lithium-ion battery development, which shows more medium-term promise and doesn’t require a new ground-up infrastructure.
Auto Motor und Sport hears that Mazda will debut a gas/hydrogen powertrain on its 2012 rotary-sportster, the RX-9. This got the German lads so excited they comissioned Mark Stehrenberg to sketch up this rendering of a potential next-gen RX. Keep in mind that all Stehrenberg had to go on was the Taiki showcar and news that the wankel engine would power the rear wheels only. As for the dual-fuel hydrogen system (think BMW Hydrogen 7), Mazda is already testing the powertrain on RX-8 mules. Although Mazda will probably improve on the BMW system’s many shortcomings by 2012, it will be interesting to see what Lithium-Ion batteries will be capable of by then. Or if there will even be hydrogen refueling stations outside of LA. Elsewhere in 2012, I’ll be stalking the used CRZ market for my slice of eco-friendly fun.
I mean, milestone. I mean, it would be petty and vindictive of me to suggest that Chevrolet’s Project Driveway program was/is an enormous waste of GM’s precious development money. If we are to have a hydrogen economy– and why wouldn’t we (other than the cost of rebuilding a trillion dollar-plus infrastructure from the ground up)– we’re going to need fuel cell vehicles to, uh, get around. So you can’t help but applaud the fact GM now has more than 100 hydrogen fuel cell Chevy Equinox on the road, which have logged a combined total of 500k miles. “The vehicles are performing very well and we are learning a great deal about fuel cell robustness and how to make this program work for real customers,” Marybeth Stanek, GM’s director of fuel cell commercialization, opines [via press release]. “The amount of data we’ve collected over the past year is very valuable to us, and gives us insight into this important automotive technology.” Yes, yes. What exactly have we learned? *crickets chirping* Hey! Jay Leno has one! Been driving it since April. Or, you know, parking it in one of his aircraft hangers.
Guess who will be at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show, November 21-30? A Volkswagen Passat. But it won’t be just any Passat. It will be a Passat produced by Shanghai VW. As if this is not shocking enough: The thing will be powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell. Shanghai Security News humbly reports that this might be the “first China-made new-energy car model of the Volkswagen brand to be displayed at an auto show.” It for sure is the first Made-in-China VeeDub ever to enter a US show. And it runs on hydrogen. How about that. The powertrain was jointly developed between SVW’s SAIC, Tongji University and Shanghai Shen-Li High Tech Co., Ltd. The car, veedubbed “Lingyu,” will reach a top speed of 150 km/h and should be good for more than 300 km at one hydrogen charging, albeit “with further innovation and maximization,” say the Security News via Gasgoo. SVW had built 500 fuel-cell hybrid sedans already for the green Olympic fleet, and wants to mass-produce the hydrogen fuel-cell Lingyu by early 2010. But will it sell?
China’s official news agency Xinhua reports that General Motors has kicked-off their “2009 promotional tour” of China for their Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen fuel cell car. Starting in China’s capital Beijing, GM will send the Equinox across the world’s fourth largest country to drum-up interest for the mid-size crossover SUV that uses the same alt propl as the elusive Chevrolet Sequel. China is no stranger to the technology. Researchers at the Anting Automotive College of Shanghai’s Tongji University developed China’s first working fuel cell car– based on a venerable Santana 2000– in 2003. GM claims that they will introduce several Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen-fuel cell cars to China in the next two years. (NB: that’s “cars” not “models.”) Nobody knows what this alleged car or cars will cost, or where GM may place the necessary hydrogen refuelling stations within the vast reaches of the middle kingdom. (No small point that; the Chevy Equinox needs a fill-up every 200 miles. Or less.) For the foreseeable future, in China at least, GM’s zero emission car of the future will continue to be what comes out of its exhaust pipe: vapor.
I've been hearing about these systems that use hydrogen added to the intake systems of cars resulting in mileage gains of 20-30 percent. My engineering background tells me that this can't be the case (as you can't get "something for nothing"), but the latest spin that I've seen on the Web is that small amounts of added hydrogen somehow enhance the combustion of regular gasoline, so that a small "hydrogen generator" unit is sufficient. There's even a guy at our company (still hearsay) that claims to have increased the mileage of his Civic by 10MPG. I think this is very unlikely (if not impossible), but maybe your crew could debunk the myth, or find that there's some merit there.
So how about it? Do any of you have any experience with hydrogen injection or can explain how it could improve mileage? For that fact, have any of you ever used any gadget advertised to increase gas mileage that actually worked as claimed?
If business and government both agree that hydrogen is the future, they must be right, right? Well, the "Hydrogen Road Tour 08" has just completed the first hydrogen-powered, cross-country road trip despite the fact that there are only 60 hydrogen stations in he country. So how did the public-private publicity tour manage this feat? Well, they didn't actually. "There were stretches without hydrogen fueling stations when the vehicles were carried on flatbed trucks," reports Reuters. The longest was a 937 mile jaunt from Rolla, Missouri to Albuquerque, New Mexico. But wait, cries DOT Administrator For Research and Innovative Technology (really) Paul Brubaker, all those hydrocarbons were not combusted in vain! One of the goals of the tour was to actually demonstrate the need to build more fueling stations. So, y'know… failure is success. Not to be out-Orwelled, the Department of Energy put out its own fawning "Suggested Talking Points For The Hydrogen Road Tour" (PDF) . There you can learn that the DOE has purchased a fuel-cell Chevy Equinox, and that it is refueled at a Shell station. Furthermore, "data collected from this effort will be integrated with data from the National Hydrogen Learning Demonstration to validate real-world performance." Which is important, because you'll want to know how often you'll have to be towed in a flatbed truck between fueling stations. Unless the hydrogen-producing firms behind the tour get their fat government checks to build an expensive new infrastructure. And all this despite the fact that in a best-case scenario, automakers will only sell about 2 million electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells by 2020 according to the National Research Council.
The IBM Institute for Business Value polled some 125 automotive executives and "thought leaders." Their final report [via Green Car Congress] concludes that "sustainability concerns" will rule the industry's future. In fact, by 2020, they figure all new cars will incorporate some form of hybridization. Respondents were less bullish on hydrogen, daunted by "the added challenge of building an entirely new infrastructure." The study also predicts the rise of the two-car consumer, diving "a primary vehicle that best meets their daily needs… [with] the option to change to a different model, as needed." Telematics (e.g. remote vehicle prognostics and active safety), data downloads and streaming media; and powertrain innovations are all in the cards. The report tells industry types to embrace new mobility models, improve the retail experience, simplify complexity, build international partnerships and execute globally. Wow, huh. Meanwhile, I'm heading over to Tomorrowland to see yesterday's future today.