Simanaitis Says

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CLEARING THE FUEL-CELL AIR

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve been enthusiastic about automobile fuel-cell propulsion since the early 1990s when I learned about this means of producing electric energy.

Not that my enthusiasm has been universally shared. Over the years, fuel cells have been called “great technology, but always ten years away.” Some automakers scoffed that the automotive fuel cell would never be viable, whereas others chose to work at reducing its formidable costs.

Demonstration fleets of the Honda Clarity, Hyundai ix35, Toyota FCHV and Mercedes-Benz F-Cell have helped the inevitable chicken-and-egg challenge of cars and infrastructure. Now, Hyundai has its 2016 Tucson Fuel Cell on the market, Toyota’s Mirai follows in the U.S. later this year and Honda’s next fuel-cell electric vehicle isn’t far off. Even some of the nay-sayers, BMW, for example, have hinted they have FCEVs in their advanced planning.

Yet news sources such as The New York Times are calling hydrogen “the Dracula of automotive fuels: Just when you think a stake has been driven through its zero-emissions heart, the technology rises from the grave.”

A funny line, but hardly a perceptive analysis of the evolution of fuel-cell engineering. Plus, the myth persists that there must be a dichotomy of battery electric vehicles, BEVs, versus FCEVs.

Let’s do some demythologizing here.

M

2016 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell.

The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell is available through 36-month lease. Its cost is $2999 up front and $499/month, maintenance and hydrogen fuel included. When the Toyota Mirai FCV goes on sale later this year, it will be priced at $57,500, minus an anticipated $13,000 in federal and California incentives. The Honda FCV is scheduled to enter its Japanese home market in the first half of 2016. It’s expected to be available in the U.S. and Europe within a year after that.

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2016 Toyota Mirai FCV. Image from Automotive News, March 2, 2015.

Toyota has released information about its Mirai, which went on sale in Japan on December 15, 2014. By January 22, 2015, Toyota had 1500 orders for the car. According to Automotive News, March 2, 2015, typical of advanced startups, the high-tech Mirai has “an ironically low-tech birth…” Currently, just 13 workers are hand-making only three Mirai FCVs per day, though expanded production will offer 2000 cars during 2015 and 3000 in 2017.

The Mirai’s initial price of $57,500 is part of FCEV evolution. According to Automotive News, March 9, 2015, at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show Toyota announced its intention of pressing for a much lower future price. Said Katsuhiko Hirose, project general manager, fuel cell development, “We are targeting down to the same level as a diesel with a particulate filter.”

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Toyota’s Katsuhiko Hirose and the Mirai FCV. Image from Automotive News, March 9, 2015.

Hirose also cited management pressures in this regard: “We say, ‘It may take 15 years.’ Their order is, ‘You do it in half.’ That is normal communication, then we try to extend it, and they try to shorten the target time.”

By the way, to put the Mirai’s current $57,500 price in perspective, the least expensive Tesla Model S is $69,900. Opt for this BEV’s 85-kWh battery pack (and its 265-mile range), and price jumps to $79,900. There’s also a super-high-performance Model S P85D at $104,500.

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Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century, by William J. Mitchell, Christopher E. Borroni-Bird and Lawrence D. Burns, MIT Press, 2010.

Not that the Mirai and Teslas compete. As cited in Reinventing the Automobile, there’s a synergy of optimized transportation depending on the mission. Rational niches exist, depending on size and range, for BEVs, HEVs (hybrids), PHEVs (plug-in hybrids) and FCEVs.

And certainly the FCEV niche is flourishing. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015

One comment on “CLEARING THE FUEL-CELL AIR

  1. Anton Thortzen
    May 2, 2015

    I keep my figners crossed that I someday will drive a fully usable Zero-emission car. All electric gives too short a range and the Teslas are too expensive. Maybe a fuel cell powered car would be more relevant? But what if VW’s 250mpg diesel technology filters down to more mundene and affordable cars? And where do we get all the hydrogen from? As you so rightly mentioned in a feature in R&T a few years ago, Denmark got 24% of all it’s electricity from wind power. Last year that was up to 39,4% and it will be 50% by 2020. That leaves plenty of surplus electricity at night to split water into oxygen and hydrogen – or charge your EVs! I see a race between philosophies.

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