Can Hydrogen FuelCell Vehicles Compete With Electric Cars? Popular Science

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Hyundai Electric Cars

Can Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles With Electric Cars?

FCEV Concept, 2013 Los Auto Show

Suddenly, fuel-cell cars are back in the Headlines have proclaimed a battle between plug-in cars and the new shining hope, vehicles.

Three automakers—Honda, and Toyota—will offer fuel-cell to consumers by the end of 2015, albeit in numbers and limited areas.  the only such car is the Honda FCX and Honda has leased only 40 of since 2008, solely in California.

Most automakers are both hydrogen and plug-in cars, to a greater or lesser but clearly a few have chosen

Choosing teams

BMW, Motors, Nissan, and Tesla most strongly in battery-electric powered off the grid, though the two are hedging their bets to extent with a variety of extenders and gasoline-engine assistance.

and Toyota, on the other hand, still believe in hydrogen as the zero-emission fuel of the future.  has said repeatedly that cars are suitable only for the vehicles, used over distances only in crowded environments.

Then there’s Hyundai-Kia, is going it alone. The company is both the 2015 Hyundai Fuel Cell crossover and the Kia Soul EV battery-electric compact

Toyota FCV concept, 2013 Motor Show

Numbers near the same

But by the time the to the first hydrogen Hyundai are over sometime next there are likely to be about plug-in electric cars on roads—and perhaps double number globally.  Meanwhile, plans about 500 Tucson Cells a year, and Toyota has that it envisions a market for of its own hydrogen vehicles by 2020.

By it’s possible that 1 plug-in cars a year be coming off the world’s assembly or two orders of magnitude more.

the infrastructure, stupid

Then the 800-pound gorilla in the room:

During our Tucson Fuel drive last Saturday, we two top Hyundai executives this What’s the long-term business for providing hydrogen as a fuel state support winds and who will be those providers?

John Krafcik, president and CEO of Motors America, and Gil Castillo, senior group manager for and advanced vehicle strategy, in essence, That’s a very question.

Hydrogen is hardly in having infrastructure challenges. It very unclear if public charging has a business model, for the 240-Volt Level 2 charging takes 3 to 6 hours to recharge plug-in cars fully.

But is all over the U.S. and it’s far to wire that last 50 than it is spend $1 million-plus to a hydrogen fueling station.  And assuming a municipality has a zoning under which hydrogen are covered; many don’t, zoning has to be altered before a can be permitted.

The natural-gas advantage

unlike natural gas—which now about half of all U.S. no existing hydrogen supply beyond limited industrial

There’s an outside possibility home refueling of natural-gas could become practical if appliance makers—think GE or Westinghouse or produce and sell a natural-gas compressor in volume for $1,000 or

That’s still down the but North America has lots of gas, and the price is historically low. Many policymakers are to reduce emissions in the short and term rather than for universal zero-emission vehicles.

to wheels

Finally, if the goal is not to eliminate vehicle emissions but to the energy footprint (or carbon of covering miles in a vehicle, it to be debated whether and how much helps.

Hyundai points to a from the University of California-Irvine suggests that carbon is equivalent to that of a battery-electric on a wells-to-wheels basis. Other have disagreed with position.

We’ll have on that topic later.

2015 Hyundai Tucson Cell at Hyundai headquarters, Valley, CA

Plug-ins have start

But for the moment, this is clear: Global automakers start to build and offer acceptable hydrogen-fueled vehicles, in from dozens to thousands a between now and 2020.

Those will only be usable in where a sustained effort to the region with hydrogen stations is already underway. in the U.S. that means California and nowhere else.

Hyundai Electric Cars

U.S. plug-in car sales are to come in around 90,000 year—of which more 15,000 will be Tesla S electric luxury sedans more than 200 miles of

We expect there to be multiple in the decades going forward; the of gasoline and diesel will erode as more ethanol, natural gas, and probably a lot electricity makes its way from the into more vehicles.

hydrogen have a place in the

Perhaps not surprisingly, electric-car Chelsea Sexton, to whom we turn for perspective, thinks

No natural constituency?

But in responding to our she raised an interesting point.

never been a pent-up for hydrogen vehicles, Sexton even a small one.

And contrasts with the thousands of who’d already experienced cars in one form or another by the the first Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt were in December 2010.

I don’t see the market or the infrastructure materializing in any way will put meaningful numbers of fuel-cell vehicles on the road the next decade, she said.

And she that a double standard The same carmakers who claim no market exists for electric still expect to have to one for hydrogen vehicles.

What matters?

In other words: the constituency for a hydrogen-powered vehicle? the market?

And does it matter you can’t drive your car outside a given radius home plus any available DC charging stations) if you can’t a hydrogen-powered car outside a 150-mile of the 40 fueling stations California to build by 2015?

None of these are simple and the answers promise to be a complex mix of desires, government policy, politics, and automaker jockeying.

is why we think it’ll be hellacious fun to over the next decade.

article, written by John , was published on . a publishing partner of Science. Follow GreenCarReports on Twitter. and Google+ .

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