Hydrogen-Fueled Driving is the Dream That Won't Die, and Ford Wants to Make It Cheaper

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
hydrogen fueled driving is the dream that wont die and ford wants to make it cheaper

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been in development for as long as hybrids, but while one of those technologies can be found in any Walgreens parking lot, the other still occupies a tiny micro-niche in the marketplace.

Besides the lack of refueling infrastructure, hydrogen-powered driving is hindered by the high cost of fuel cells. After receiving $6 million from the feds, Ford Motor Company and the Los Alamos National Laboratory hope to change that, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy, aims to spur development of cheaper fuel cells, which convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. Without a cost-effective production system, fuel cell vehicles will continue to be an ultra-low volume afterthought, hamstrung by their lack of competitive pricing.

This isn’t the first time Ford dipped its toe into the hydrogen vehicle realm. Prior to the recession, the automaker tested a small fleet of fuel cell-powered Focus vehicles. That demonstration program also saw support from the DOE.

Ford isn’t ruling out using the technology if it becomes cost-effective to use. In a statement, the automaker said, “The grant will help further our research efforts to develop next-generation technologies for our vehicles.”

As it stands, the flow of hydrogen vehicles into the U.S. market is like a tap that leaks a drop of water a few times a day. Less than 300 Toyota Mirai sedans found buyers as of July (according to Business Insider), though the automaker plans to cautiously ramp up production next year. The Hyundai Tucson fuel cell vehicle recently saw its first buyers in the U.S. and Canada, and Honda plan to market the Clarity later this year.

As of today, only 29 public hydrogen refueling stations exist in the U.S.

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  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Aug 12, 2016

    At some point the insurance industry is likely to weigh in on FCV's. For example the idea of underground parking lots full of these things is scary.

  • Jagboi Jagboi on Aug 15, 2016

    A major analysis that typically isn't done is what I'll call "wellhead to tailpipe" How much energy does it take to get a fuel ( be it gasoline, electricity, hydrogen etc) from the place of production to the final use as transportation. In many cases it can be single digit efficiency! H2 efficiency depends on the type of fuel cell, each has it's advantages and disadvantages. For the PEM type (i.e. Ballard's fuel cell powered bus) the hydrogen in made by cracking natural gas, to give CO and H2. CO is a poison to a PEM cell, and has to be discarded, so right away you're throwing away half the fuel. SOFC cells can use CO as a fuel but they operate at red hot temperatures (typically 750-800C ) and it takes at least 4-5 hours to get them to temperature from cold, since the various materials inside them at brittle and have to be warmed slowly. Once hot they must be fed fuel contentiously to protect the cells from air which will destroy them. It's like leaving your car idling all the time you're not using it. I used to work at an R&D company building and developing fuel cells, and transportation is a very poor application for them. Continuous load, like base load for the electrical grid is what they are good at. Cars are better off as straight electric with batteries, or hybrids. Or like trolley buses years ago with overhead power supplied.

  • EBFlex Chrysler has the best infotainment by far. The older uConnect system was bulletproof and never had issues. The newer one based on android auto is a big step backward but it's still very good. Nothing else comes close to Chrysler's infotainment.
  • EBFlex People don't want compromises. They want a vehicle that will match what they have now with ICE which includes very short refueling times, long range, and batteries that don't degrade over a rather short time. In the midwest, people don't live on top of each other. People like their space and are spread out. 30+ mile commutes are common. So is outdoor living which includes towing.Government cars make sense for the coasts where people love to live on top of each other and everything is within walking distance. They don't make sense in areas where it's cold and 40% of your range could be lost. Government cars are just not viable right now for the majority of people and the sales reflect it.
  • MaintenanceCosts There are a lot of lifestyles outside of urban America that don't work well yet with EVs. I live in Seattle and would face minimal (if any) inconvenience from driving only EVs. We are in fact planning to replace our big family car with an EV in 2024. But my relatives in small-town Texas would have to change some things they do unless/until there is a complete fast charging network along rural I-20. That network is coming, but it will be a few more years.
  • VoGhost Five years ago, Tesla was ten years ahead of the competition. I haven't seen anything to suggest that's changed.
  • Varezhka They cheapened out on the hardware side too, so we'll see how much they can improve with the software updates. I know they're using faster processors with some of their newer vehicles, but not sure how much faster.