Simanaitis Says

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THE CALIFORNIA Fuel Cell Partnership has issued informative updates of fuel cell vehicles and how they might benefit transportation. Given that a Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell SUV has already gone to its first leasee, with other fuel-cell cars coming soon from Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, it’s timely to review the CaFCP reports.


The reports can be downloaded from

Full disclosure: I could have Fuel Cell Proponent stenciled on my forehead. See, among others, for Alaska Highway and Las Vegas/San Diego adventures and for a discussion of FCEV virtues and vices.

It’s comforting to have hard facts to back up one’s prejudices.

The facts come from well-to-wheel analyses using GREET V1_2013, a computer model developed by Argonne National Laboratory. Computer adventurists can explore registering for their own copies of the software from


The well-to-wheel perspective. This and other images from California Fuel Cell Partnership.

As the term suggests, well-to-wheel analyses encompass the sourcing and production of energy, its means of distribution and its ultimate use. The CaFCP report has analyses of seven aspects, air pollution, climate, energy, water, security, operation and bus transportation. I offer tidbits here from four of them, air, energy, water and operation.

Air pollution: There are four “criteria pollutants,” i.e., the regulated ones: volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter. VOCs used to be specifically hydrocarbons, HC, left unburned in the combustion process. CO, NOx, PM10 and PM2.5 are inherent byproducts of combustion. The smallest variety, PM2.5, was recently cited here at

Since there is no combustion in the direct operation of an electric vehicle, either fuel cell (FCEV) or battery (BEV), these two get superlative marks on the wheel end of their air-pollution well-to-wheel analyses.


Well-to-wheel analyses of air pollution.

That is, FCEVs and BEVs have zero tailpipe emissions. Their only pollution blips are upstream in the production of a BEV’s electricity or FCEV’s hydrogen.

Energy efficiency: Again, it’s no contest in overall well-to-wheel comparisons of efficiency.


Well-to-wheel analyses of efficiency.

However, interesting facts lurk in production scores. For example, the gasoline industry is a mature one, with 80-percent efficiency in its well-to-tank operations.

By contrast, the other mature industry, electricity, is only about 50-percent efficient. Its transmission along power lines, for instance, loses 8-10 percent of the energy produced at the power plant. This is akin to an 8000-gallon tank truck leaking 640 gallons of its gasoline on the way from distribution center to service station. (Need I say it doesn’t?)

On the wheel end of things, conventional cars are improving. However, FCEVs and BEVs have basic physics on their side. An FCEV converts perhaps 40 percent of its hydrogen energy into propulsion. A BEV is even better, turning 60 percent of grid energy into getting around.

Water use: There are two curiosities with water, its extremely high usage in producing E85, ethanol, (no surprise; E85 comes from corn). And its high commitment to electricity.


Well-to-wheel analyses of water usage.

There’s irony here as well. Electricity’s water usage comes indirectly, from evaporation associated with hydropower. And, curiously, hydro is not included in most figuring of renewables. Only the smallest of mini hydroelectric gizmos qualify.

Operation: Of course, there are gasoline stations and electrical outlets all over, but this is only part of the story.


The operational tradeoffs of energy options.

Range and recharge  time continue to be BEV downsides.

Not noted here, but worth mentioning, is an FCEV challenge at the service station: Its fillup routine is similar to that of compressed natural gas. However, CNG metering and pricing are familiar aspects of the distribution system. Thus far, hydrogen’s metering and pricing are still to be determined. At this point, fuel charges are included in FCEV lease deals.

There’s a wealth of information in the CaFCP reports, much of it clearly delineated and some of it by pondering between the lines. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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