The Truth About Cars » Fuel Cell The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:33:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Fuel Cell Question Of The Day: What Does Japan Know About Fuel Cells That We Don’t? Mon, 30 Jun 2014 16:39:28 +0000 1280px-FCX_Clarity

A new report from Reuters highlight’s the Japanese auto industry’s increasing focus on hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that has long been written off as dead by many industry observers and battery electric vehicle advocates.

Reuters reports

Japan’s government and top carmakers, including Toyota Motor Corp, are joining forces to bet big that they can speed up the arrival of the fuel cell era: a still costly and complex technology that uses hydrogen as fuel and could virtually end the problem of automotive pollution…With two of Japan’s three biggest automakers going all in on fuel cells, the country’s long-term future as an automotive powerhouse could now hinge largely on the success of what they hope will be a key technology of the next few decades.

While Nissan is a notable holdout (pursuing battery EVs like their signature Nissan Leaf), Toyota and Honda are pursuing hydrogen as the alternative fuel of the future, and they have the backing of the Japanese government.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth strategy… also included a call for subsidies and tax breaks for buyers of fuel-cell vehicles, relaxed curbs on hydrogen fuel stations and other steps under a road map to promote hydrogen energy.

While Honda has been promoting fuel cell technology since the 1990′s, Toyota recently abandoned their EV program in favor of focusing on hydrogen. Despite all of the criticism of hydrogen fuel cells, their cost and the lack of infrastructure, the technology is still alive in this corner of the automotive world – one that is arguably the leader in hybrid cars and alternative powertrains overall.

Industry scuttlebutt has it that Japanese OEMs are convinced that the cost of developing a hydrogen fuel station network is going to be cheaper than developing a 500 mile EV battery, but I’m still curious: what are we the public – and the hydrogen skeptics – missing out on that’s driving Japan to persist with fuel cell technology?

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2015 Toyota FCV Unveiled, Priced From $68,688 In Japan Wed, 25 Jun 2014 05:46:47 +0000 DSC_0020


Toyota’s first mass production fuel cell vehicle was unveiled today in Tokyo, prices from just under $70,000.

Specs and global pricing were not announced, but Toyota said the roll-out of the car would be initially limited to areas in Japan with hydrogen fueling infrastructure.  A roll-out in the United States and Europe is coming in 2015.

Despite many observers taking a bearish stance on fuel cells, Toyota is all-in on hydrogen, after ditching their EV program in 2012. The question is, what do they know that we don’t that is giving them such confidence about a technology many thought was dead in the water?

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Honda, GM Team Up For Fuel Cell Technology As Alliance Trend Continues Tue, 02 Jul 2013 15:11:31 +0000 FCX_Clarity

When it comes to fuel cell technology, everyone seems desperate to hop into bed with everyone else. The past 12 months has been a whole number of alliances; the start of 2013 saw an announcement between Toyota and BMW to partner on hydrogen technology, while Daimler, Ford and Nissan also banded together on their own fuel cell project. Now we can add Honda and GM to that list.

The two auto makers, who would at first glance appear to be unlikely bedfellows, are teaming up to develop fuel cell technology as well as fueling station infrastructure.  The goal is to create common technologies that the two auto makers can share, while also bringing down costs by consolidating their supplier base.

It’s hard to imagine two more different corporate cultures than Honda and GM, but the two do have a fair bit in common when it comes to fuel cells. Honda has been carrying the H2 torch with its FCV fuel-cell car, while GM has logged over 3 million miles in its fleet of FCV Equinox demo cars.

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Hyundai Assembling Fuel Cell Tucsons For Mass Production Tue, 21 May 2013 21:51:05 +0000 Hyundai-ix35-White-HD-Wallpaper

As one of the big dissenters from the battery-powered EV lovetrain, Hyundai is about to put its money on Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology. Starting in 2015, it intends to assemble up to 10,000 units of a fuel cell-powered version of the Tucson crossover at its plant in Ulsan, South Korea.

While EVs have grabbed a lot of media attention lately, fuel cells have made a slow comeback at manufacturers like Daimler, Volkswagen, Ford, Toyota and BMW. Even Renault-Nissan is in on it.

One Hyundai officially we spoke to gave a few reasons for the company’s decision to pursue hydrogen fuel cells rather than battery-powered EVs. According to him, hydrogen powertrains are easy to scale to nearly any vehicle size, whereas EV batteries “have a logarithmic function between range, performance  cost and vehicle size.” A battery with increased range is much heavier, costlier and takes longer to refuel. Fuel cells on the other hand, don’t have that problem, and take roughly 9-10 minutes to “refuel”, while range is typically around 400 miles.

Hyundai has also apparently reached a point where cost reduction and economies of scale are making fuel cells viable for the mass market. The next step will of course be the infrastructure  Their internal research shows that fueling stations need to be within 5 miles of one’s home to be viable, and the question of who will chip in to help build that network (government, private corporations or private-public partnerships) is still up in the air on a larger scale – but Hyundai and the U.S. government recently announced a partnership to help advance the network of hydrogen stations across America.

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Volkswagen, Ballard Power Sign Fuel Cell Deal, Worth Up To $100 Million Thu, 07 Mar 2013 14:50:34 +0000

Canadian fuel cell firm Ballard Power inked a deal with Volkswagen that could be worth as much as $100-million and last up to 6 years.

According to the CBC, Ballard will provide fuel cells for VW’s HyMotion hydrogen lineup, which will consist of a demonstrator fleet for now. Long a darling of North America’s clean energy sector, Ballard’s automotive fuel cell business began to turn south over the last decade, and in 2008, Ballard sold its automotive fuel cell assets to Daimler and Ford.

Ballard remained in the fuel cell business for forklifts, buses and stationary electrical generation, though it continued to keep a foothold in the automotive fuel cell business. But a number of advances in hydrogen fuel cells, from the technology itself to the abundance of natural gas used to make hydrogen to innovative fueling projects that use sewage, have spurred renewed interest in hydrogen as an automotive fuel.

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The End Run Of The Fuel Cell Race Thu, 09 Aug 2012 13:38:54 +0000 The excitement about battery electric vehicles seems to die down amidst disappointing uptake. Range, weight and cost are in the way. At the same time, dormant interest in fuel cell vehicles is being rekindled. A month ago, we had a new look at the technology from the perspective of the Toyota/BMW linkup. Today, The Nikkei [sub] takes a broader view and says that carmakers are in the final lap of the fuel cell race. Let’s have a look at the contestants and where they stand.

Says The Nikkei [sub]:

“While many car companies are already in a fierce battle for a slice of the market for environmentally friendly vehicles such as hybrids and electric cars, they are also in the final stages of developing fuel-cell cars, which are widely expected to be the ultimate eco-cars because they emit no greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, or other pollutants.

Leading the charge in fuel-cell development are Toyota Motor Corp. , Honda Motor Co., General Motors Co. of the U.S. and Germany’s Daimler AG. The stakes are high, given the vast sums already spent.”

Roland Berger Strategy Consultants told the Tokyo wire that “the four automakers have already spent a combined 100 billion yen on the technology.” That would be a little over a billion $, and I believe that number is low.

Fuel cell research had been conducted since the last millennium. The 2008 financial crisis slowed it down. Carmakers had to cut R&D even on regular cars. Recently, development revved up again.

Prototypes and test vehicles have been driving around for years without exploding. 2015 is the date several carmakers name for the first commercial launch of fuel cell vehicles. Satoshi Ogiso, Toyota’s man in charge of new technology, thinks that the only challenge is affordability.  During an interview with TTAC last year, he likened the challenge to what had faced him during the launch of the first hybrids in 1995.

Just like hybrid powertrains in the 90s, current fuel cell powertrains are big, bulky, heavy and expensive. Ogiso and his colleagues at other carmakers are working on the problem.

The solution to many ills in the auto industry is scale: Make and sell enough cars with the new technology, and you can spread the price of development over many units. Also, with mass production, the price of components can come down drastically.

Even the largest automakers don’t want to wait until they achieved the necessary scale effects themselves. They forge alliances with other automakers.

  • Toyota, usually a company that does it alone and in-house, famously entered an alliance with BMW.
  • Nissan and Renault agreed with Daimler to expand the scope of their cooperation to fuel-cell cars.
  • Honda appears to be partner-less.
  • GM negotiated a fuel cell partnership with BMW. The Bavarians broke off the discussion and are winding down a new energy alliance with GM partner PSA after hooking up with Toyota.

Says The Nikkei:

“One GM executive who has worked on the automaker’s fuel-cell effort for a long time lamented being handed another setback by Toyota.”

Observers familiar with the matter expect more tie-ups. The Roland Berger consultancy predicts that Toyota will enlarge its circle of fuel cell partners.

It will be a few years until fuel cell cars can compete in the marketplace. In the meantime, there is a fierce and sometimes uncivil competition for government grants.

When the U.S. government did bet heavily on EVs in 2009 and decided to shift funding away from fuel cell vehicle research, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said that fuel cell vehicles “will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years.” In the meantime, he had a change of heart.

“The development of America’s tremendous shale gas resources is also helping to reduce the costs of producing hydrogen and operating hydrogen fuel cells,” Bill Gibbons, a spokesman for the department, told the New York Times in May.

If an investment into fuel cell vehicles would be successful at last, past investments into EVs would not go to waste. A fuel cell is just another battery. Except that it can be charged in minutes than hours, and except that it lasts 400 miles instead of 100.

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Toyota And BMW Plan To Take The Lead In Commercializing Fuel Cell Cars. Let’s Revisit Sat, 30 Jun 2012 10:05:03 +0000 The intensified alliance between Toyota and BMW shines a new light on a technology that has been discussed for decades, but that never quite made it: Hydrogen fuel cells. BMW will get access to Toyota’s fuel cell technologies. This most likely spells the end of the fuel cell cooperation between BMW and GM. Let’s take another look.

Toyota is far ahead with the technology. The company had Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicles (FCHV) on the roads for ten years. In 2009, it “launched” its FCHV-adv, basically a Highlander with the hybrid synergy drive from the Toyota Prius connected to a 90kW fuel cell stack. A few months ago, editor-at-large Ed Niedermeyer and I had it on a short test ride through the scenic warehouse landscape of Torrance, CA. Except for an eerily quiet drive, the ride was uneventful.

On a full tank of – this time real – gas, we could have taken it all the way to San Francisco and beyond – no range anxiety here. Fuel cell vehicles have all the advantages of a battery-operated vehicle, i.e. no emissions (the fuel stack produces water), and nearly none of its drawbacks.

If you want to drive tailpipe emission free, your choices are battery, or fuel cell. A fuel cell is basically a battery. Fuel cells and batteries use a chemical reaction to make electricity. When the chemicals in a battery are depleted, you must recharge or throw away the battery. The chemicals of a fuel cell are hydrogen and oxygen. You provide the hydrogen. The fuel cell stack uses free-of-charge oxygen from the air and produces electricity plus H2O – water. Proponents of the technology say that well-to-wheel, fuel cells involve much lower emissions than batteries. Refilling the hydrogen tank should not take longer than filling up with unleaded. Next stop after 400+ miles.

The only way to extend the range of a BEV (if you don’t want to add an ICE) is by adding more batteries. This quickly becomes an exercise in futility. Each added battery cell means more weight, heavier brakes, a larger traction motor, a stronger body to carry the mass, and in turn even more batteries. And most of all, it becomes insanely expensive.

Not so with fuel cells. Fuel cells can make electricity at weights that are between eight to 14 times less than current batteries. Extending the range of a fuel cell vehicle has negligible impact on its weight.

Like electricity, hydrogen is not a way to make energy, it is a way to transport energy. Hydrogen can be made in the same number of ways as electricity.

And why aren’t we all driving around in fuel cell vehicles by now? There were a number of technical challenges, but as Toyota Chief Engineer Satoshi Ogiso had told us last year, the challenges have all been mastered. The only real problem Ogiso is facing with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is money:

“For us, the only remaining real issue that stands in the way of fuel cell electric vehicles is mass production cost.”

Current fuel cell technology is big, bulky, heavy and expensive. With enough scale, package size and price can come down considerably. Toyota plans to launch a commercial FCV in 2015. It still will be expensive, the Nikkei figures 5 million yen, or $62,000. By 2020, Ogiso plans to have an affordable FCV.

Luxury vehicles are much better for early-tech alternative propulsion, because the cars are big enough to hide the heft and expensive enough to mask the price. With their alliance, Toyota and BMW plan totake the lead in commercializing fuel cell cars,” as The Nikkei [sub] writes. Says The Nikkei:

“Other automakers are forging ties over green technologies. Daimler AG is rushing to develop a fuel cell car with capital partner Nissan Motor Co. Meanwhile, Honda Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. are developing fuel cell cars on their own. General Motors Co. has been considering a fuel cell tie-up with BMW, but it may have to change course now that the German firm has opted to partner with Toyota.”

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On Your Next Trip To Tokyo, Take the Fuel Cell Car Thu, 27 Jan 2011 07:48:56 +0000

Yesterday, I changed my base of operations to Tokyo for a month to escape the Chinese New Year festivities (i.e. one month of WW III worthy fireworks, combined with closed shops and restaurants.) If I would have stuck it out a few days longer, I could have enjoyed a ride in a fuel cell vehicle.

Starting on January 29, Toyota Motor will provide “TOYOTA FCHV-adv” (as in “fuel cell hybrid vehicle-advanced”) vehicles to a new car service from Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Toyota is acting upon a request from the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology (HySUT), a participant in the Hydrogen Highway Project run by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

Toyota has already provided a hydrogen-powered bus for use on a commercial route between central Tokyo and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The idea is to gather data for the big hydrogen roll-out in 2015.

Detailed data of the still experimental FCHV-adv can be found in the Toyota press release. The car uses the same core hybrid synergy drive as the Toyota Prius, except that the power is delivered by a hydrogen-fed fuel cell. What is most impressive: Despite the definite SUV-like characteristics of the vehicle (the FCHV-adv is based on a Toyota Highlander), there will be not even the slightest pang of range anxiety in this car. With a full high-pressure tank of hydrogen, it can go for 830km (515 miles) before it needs a fill-up.

No, there is no on-board toilet.

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Toyota: $50k Hydrogen Sedan By 2015 Thu, 06 May 2010 17:33:53 +0000

Lithium-ion batteries aren’t the only automotive cleantech that appears to be getting cheaper. Toyota’s head of advanced autos, Yoshihiko Masuda, tells Bloomberg that the Japanese automaker has cut the cost of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) by 90 percent in the last five years or so. Mid-decade, Toyota’s per-car estimates for FCVs ran near a million dollars per car. With costs now closer to the $100k mark, Toyota says it plans to cut that number in half by 2015. If they can make that happen, Masuda says, a $50k hydrogen FCV will be on like Donkey Kong.

Of course, there’s a tiny question left unanswered even by Toyota’s impressive cost-cutting: will people actually spend $50k on what will likely be a relatively compact green halo vehicle (albeit one with an ICE-equivalent range)? Of course, by 2015, the Volt will have helped answer that question, but it will also be providing competition. And even Masuda doesn’t seem to think that a $50k FCV will exactly set the world on fire. He describes the potential market for such a vehicle as

small, but with some support

And before we scoff too hard at this damning with faint praise, let’s consider that the same could probably have been said of Toyota’s Mk.1 Prius prior to launch… and look how that turned out. Other signs that Toyota is trying to pull off another iteration of the Prius phenomenon lies in the fact that, like the Prius, Toyota doesn’t expect to make any money on the vehicle initially. According to Masuda,

Our target is, we don’t lose money with introduction of the vehicle. Production cost should be covered within the price of the vehicle.

So, no profit, but no big subsidies either… too bad Toyota won’t talk volume targets. And though range will be equivalent to a gas-powered car, the lack of hydrogen refueling stations isn’t promising. On the other hand, a retail-available FCV might be a good step towards improving demand for hydrogen fueling infrastructure. Still, GM has said that it wouldn’t consider marketing a retail FCV until there are at least 40 fueling stations in Southern California, or about four times the current number.

And there’s another problem. Though Toyota has brought down costs thanks to reduced platinum content and cheaper production of fuel cell films, there’s still a real question of what you can expect for your $50k. As in, how long can you expect your $50k FCV to last? According to Masuda:

Our target is at least 100,000 miles, 10 years

That’s not a lot of driving for 50 large. And without proven sources of low-carbon hydrogen in many markets, the environmental benefits aren’t likely to be much of an improvement over, say, the Prius. On the other hand, without gambles like these, we wouldn’t have a Prius for comparison. So is Toyota ahead of the curve the way it was with the Prius, or is the hybrid leader losing the plot? As a longtime EV skeptic, Toyota probably likes its chances… but it probably knows this won’t be easy either.

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CAFE For Free Sat, 03 Apr 2010 14:18:17 +0000

On April 1, new federal fuel economy CAFE standards went into effect. By 2016, new cars should get 35 mpg or thereabouts. The true number remains an exercise in abstract algebra. Says Consumer Reports: “The new standards require different fuel economy averages for each manufacturer and for each type of vehicle (such as small, midsized, and large sedans or SUVs).” There are plenty of loopholes and offsets. Extra credit for cars that take E85 Ethanol, for instance. And here is another huge loophole:

“The first 200,000 fuel-cell, plug-in hybrid, or pure electric cars will count as causing zero grams of CO2 emissions,” writes Edmunds. That’s  200,000 per manufacturer. Carmakers that build more than 25,000 such vehicles in 2012 will receive an even loftier ceiling of 300,000. Once the 200,000 or 300,000 car allotment is used up, the smokestack emissions of power plants must be taken into consideration. The EPA is currently at a loss when it comes to putting a true CO2 figure on the power created to charge your car, but they are unconcerned. They expect the allotment to last for a long time.

Thanks to the EPA algebra, supposedly zero emission cars (which would immediately called illegal in the UK) can be used as a momentous offset that enables the automaker to go on and continue selling fuel oinkers. Come on: Unless all power is created by windmills or water turbines, negating the emissions of power plants is and remains a con game. Consider yourself conned.

According to Reuters, “the Obama administration said the initial rating was an incentive to produce electric vehicles, but automakers like General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, and Chrysler had pushed for an unlimited zero rating.” Honda even suggested that fuel-cell vehicles, such as its Clarity model, should count as 16 zero-emission cars. Boys, listen to the EPA, it will be a while until the 200K or 300K allotment is used up. And push comes to shove, things can always be relegislated.

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GM Exhumes Its Hydrogen Dreams Wed, 17 Mar 2010 17:59:38 +0000

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

Project Driveway has been testing the Equinox FCVs since 2007, and has logged some 1.3m test miles. Though the program is winding down, GM reveals that
some of the 119 fuel cell electric vehicles in Project Driveway will receive hardware and software upgrades and will become part of a technology demonstration program with the U.S. Department of Energy. Others will be driven by businesses and a few will be used to continue showing that, with proper fueling infrastructure, hydrogen fuel cells are a viable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles

GM doesn’t specify the origins of this latest generation of hydrogen fuel cell, but it’s likely the product of Germany-based GM program which is currently testing the HydroGen4, a Pontiac Torrent-based testbed for GM’s latest fuel-cell technology. An Auto Motor und Sport test of the HydroGen4 showed that between 150 and 200 miles of range can be expected, with a 0-60 time of about ten seconds and a top speed of 100 MPH. The system stores hydrogen at 700 BAR, and also uses a NiMh battery to store energy from a regenerative braking system. Refueling could take as little 3 minutes at a fixed station, but it took a good 15 minutes for AM und S using a mobile fuel tanker provided by GM.

At €500k to €1m per unit, the cost-per-performance is still wildly undercompetitive with battery EVs. Though GM is touting a reduction in platinum content, the catalyst was the major weak point in the system when AM und S tested the HdroGen4 just over a year ago. At the time, GM’s Larry Burns noted that

Although the HydroGen4 uses the fourth generation of fuel cell, it will still need about three more development cycles before it’s truly production-ready. Hydrogen fuel cells will only be a true alternative in the 2016-2018 timeframe.

So, what’s changed that makes GM so optimistic about hydrogen? There’ are no details yet on the technical front, but Europe’s dirty electricity-generating mix (which limits EVs C02 benefits) is creating government incentives to develop fuel-cell alternatives there. The Clean Energy Program already has Toyota hyping hydrogen, so it’s likely that GM wants in on that government-funded action. Meanwhile the biggest concern with FCVs is refueling. According to GM’s calculations, it would cost $11.7b to create an effective hydrogen refueling network in the USA. If GM expects our government to fund that project, it will probably be waiting quite a while for that amount to shake free from DC’s overburdened budgets.

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