Hydrogen taking back seat as doors open for electric cars Chicago Tribune

27 Апр 2014 | Author: | Комментарии к записи Hydrogen taking back seat as doors open for electric cars Chicago Tribune отключены
Seat Electric Cars

Hydrogen taking back seat as doors open for electric cars

MILFORD, Mich. — With oil belching out of control into the Gulf of Mexico, the moment could hardly be better for introducing a new wave of electric cars.

And then there’s hydrogen.

No, really, there is.

It’s easy to forget that hydrogen-fuel-cell cars have been around for decades in one experimental form or another. General Motors Co. has a nice one a roomy Equinox with a rear exhaust port for its only emission: water vapor.

Turn the key and it purrs to life. Push the accelerator, and it takes off, just like a real car. It can hit 105 mph on the GM test track without breaking a sweat.

Then it attaches to a pump at a hydrogen fueling station on the site, and it’s ready to go in about the same time as filling a gas tank.

Yet hydrogen stands to be the big loser as the Volt, Leaf and similar electrics take the stage.

It’s impractical to believe that America will build more than one new fueling infrastructure all at once. Battery-recharging stations will come first.

Out of favor in the White House, hydrogen will have to wait, maybe forever.

You have to pick a technology, said David Whiston, auto equity analyst at Morningstar Inc. Electric is what you will see in the next decade.

At GM, Mark Vann is keeping the faith. An engineer who spearheads fuel-cell projects, Vann points out that most major automakers still maintain hydrogen programs. GM has logged 1.4 million miles on its fleet of 120 hydrogen-powered vehicles.

We obviously have a lot invested, he said.

The pros and cons of these technologies are debated all the time, but it comes down to pleasing the car shopper, who naturally wants all the convenience of traditional gas engines at a good price.

Hydrogen fuel cells cost a ridiculous amount of money, and the filling stations cost even more. But the price is coming down as engineers figure out how to use less platinum and fewer parts. Compared with the state-of-the-art electrics, hydrogen goes longer distances, scales up into bigger vehicles and recharges in no time, Vann said.

Germany and Japan see big potential for fuel cells, he said. California and Hawaii like them too.

Without broader political support, however, it may not matter.

Hydrogen still takes part of the blame for killing the Supercar hybrid-electric championed under President Bill Clinton, one of many electric vehicles that didn’t make it over the years. When George W. Bush took office, he pushed a hydrogen-powered FreedomCAR instead, raising suspicions that the former Texas oil man wanted to postpone the day of reckoning for gasoline by embracing a far-distant solution.

President Barack Obama’s energy secretary, Steven Chu, dismissed hydrogen off the bat, saying it would require four technological miracles to succeed, and even then wouldn’t be practical for years and years.

It’s almost like a running joke: Every 10 years, everybody says it’s 10 years away, said Mike Omotoso, powertrain analyst at automotive research firm J.D. Power and Associates. It is 10 years away.

It will be the last on the list, and the smallest in volume and market share.

But Omotoso doubts any alternative to fossil fuels will catch on in a big way anytime soon. He said government forecasters who expect 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 will be disappointed when the numbers clock in at fewer than 500,000.

Better hope BP caps that runaway oil well soon. At the rate it’s going, America is going to need every last drop of gas.

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