Simanaitis Says

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FUEL CELLS FORGOTTEN? YET AGAIN?

WHAT WITH everyone but the guy next door promising to build only “electrified” cars, it’s surprising to me that only a few of the world’s automakers are seeing promise in FCEVs; in other words, electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells rather than solely by battery packs.

The Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, and Honda Clarity Fuel Cell are already available to those fortunate enough to live within hydrogen refueling’s fledgling infrastructure (these days, southern California or the Bay Area).

Toyota Mirai, $57,500 MSRP; leasing: $349/month for 36 months.

Mercedes-Benz and General Motors have also demonstrated FCEV commitment. Mercedes had a small fleet of its B-Class F-Cell cars in southern California. At the September 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, it unveiled a production 2018 GLC F-Cell SUV. In January 2017, GM announced plans for a joint venture with Honda for producing automotive fuel cells in a Michigan facility.

Above, the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, leasing: $369/month for 36 months. Below, the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, leasing: $499/month for 36 months.


Yet, among other world automakers, those touting electrification of vehicle fleets limit their electrification commitment to hybrids and battery EVs, with nary a mention of fuel cells.

Indeed, at the Frankfurt show, Audi of America president Scott Keogh told Automotive News, September 25, 2017, “The worst thing you can do is kind of half bake electric, then go off on another science project with fuel cells, then go running to another science project.”

Gott in Himmel‽ Whatever happened to the Audi slogan Vorsprung Durch Technik, Advancement Through Technology?

Even BMW, which I recall once argued that fuel-cell complications weren’t worth the trouble, is “still open to fuel cells,” as reported in Automotive News, October 16, 2017. Matthias Klietz, head of the company’s alternative powertrain group, spoke at a Royal Dutch Shell energy conference in September; Shell being an energy supplier with hydrogen in its portfolio.

Klietz says BMW is planning a “small-batch hydrogen fuel cell car to be unveiled in 2022.” As for other hydrogen applications, he takes a broad view: “For BMW, we use it for cars, but we also use it in the production process. So forklifts are propelled with hydrogen, especially in the U.S.”

He expresses caveats, however: “From the customer side, the biggest problem is still the infrastructure. Looking to our product, it’s the cost. It’s still not good enough to offer [at reasonable] costs to customers.”

Thus far, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota appear to differ. Or, at the least, they recognize the inherent costs of “advancement through technology.”

A good slogan, that. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

One comment on “FUEL CELLS FORGOTTEN? YET AGAIN?

  1. Mike B
    October 29, 2017

    Wasn’t that old line something like: fuel cells are the power source of the future, and always will be?

    They work. They’re expensive to make. To be small enough for vehicle use, they have to run on pure hydrogen, which on an industrial scale currently comes from natural gas or other fossil fuels; making hydrogen from renewable sources, so far, is a fairly inefficient, energy-intensive process. Battery systems are more efficient on a fuel-cycle basis and can easily be fed from renewable sources.

    Admittedly, fuel cell vehicles can be “recharged” quickly, much like traditional ICE vehicles (which can also be set up to run on hydrogen and renewables). Battery vehicles (so far, Porsche has an interesting new gadget…) can’t be – a fast charge takes at least 1/2 hour. So, for now at least, fuel cell vehicles can hold the candle of the only electric-drive that can be recharged quickly.

    Fuel cells, in a combined-cycle setup especially where the waste heat is used for something, can be very efficient at fuel>electricity conversion. Almost any fuel, if you want to go industrial scale on the fuel cells. They’re in use now. Perhaps some of those, burning methane from our garbage dumps, can help power battery-electric cars: another form of fuel-cell vehicle.

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