Fuel Cell Cars
Author: William Halal and Ken Harris
Latest Update: Mar 10th, 2011
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With the widespread realization that alternative fueled autos are needed, governments and the auto industry are pouring billions into hydrogen vehicle research and development. The potential is vast. Internal combustion engines are only 14% efficient, while hydrogen fuel cells are 42% efficient, and autos consume 26% of all energy. Finding a supply of hydrogen is problematic, but a variety of methods is being developed that could prove commercially feasible within a decade. Fuel cell autos are considered the logical follow up to hybrids because both types are similar in many ways. Hybrids and fuel cell autos both use electric motors to drive wheels, batteries to store energy, regenerative braking to conserve it, and may in time use composite bodies that are lighter. (Also see Alternative Energy) TechCast estimates fuel cell cars will enter the commercial market by 2015, eventually creating global demand that may reach several $ trillion.

Selected Adoption & Forecast Data
Expected to be on the market by 2010-2015
• The Fuel Cell Council says use of fuel cells is growing 75%/year, with total sales of $46 B expected in '11. (Kelly Carnes, TechVision21)
• Daimler Chrysler thinks competitive fuel cell cars will be on the road by 2012-2015. (News.com 5/18/07)
• The US National Research Council said "Lower-cost fuel cell [cars] are likely to be available by 2015.  2 million hydrogen powered cars could be operating in the US in 2020 and 25 million by 2030."  (NRC Committee on Fuel Cell Technologies 2008)

Event Being Forecast: Fuel cell autos enter the commercial market.
Forecast Data Analysis
    Mean Std Dev N (# Experts)
Most Likely Year 2015 5 77
Market Size (1-10) 3.6 2.0
Confidence (%) 67 16.9

In addition, 2 experts predicted that this event would never occur; mean confidence: 71%; std. dev.: 22.

Frequency Distributions
 Most Likely Year Market Size (1-10) Confidence (%)

PROS: Trends Driving this Event CONS: Obstacles Opposing this Event
• The U.S. is investing $1.2 B into H2 research, the EU is investing $2 B, and Japan $2 B.
•  To reduce dependence on oil, the 2007 US Energy Law requires cars to average 35 mpg by 2020. (Wall Street Journal 8/5/08)
• Iceland is building the world’s first hydrogen economy.
China could be a world leader in fuel cell cars because its authoritarian government can force rapid devlopment to meet Euro II emission standards.  (http://www.ecoworld/)
• The California Fuel Cell Partnership of car makers and energy firms plans to put 300 fuel cell cars in tests and build fueling stations on major highways. (Fleet Owner)
HYDROGEN SOURCES BEING DEVELOPED A total of 250 fuel cell systems are being developed, some offering creative ways to produce H2 cheaply and store it safely:
• California is developing H2 fueling stations in the San Francisco-Sacramento corridor and in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. (http://www.fuelcellpartnership.org/)
• Honda is developing a solar-powered hydrogen refilling station for home use. The system uses solar panels at off-peak times to refuel a fuel cell-powered car overnight at competitive costs (The Age.com 2/3/10).
•  Dutch chemist Kees Balde has shown that H2 can be stored in nanoparticles (Science daily 4/1/08)

GE can split water to form H2 at prices comparable to gasoline. "I think they've established a new state-of-the-art," said a scientist. (TechnologyReview 10/23/06)
• "Destabilized hybrides" are able to store H2 and release it on demand, solving the storage problem and doubling fuel efficiency (Scentific American 4/07)
• Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is developing an under-the-hood reformer that produces hydrogen from gasoline. The process produces twice the energy output than the original gas. (BusinessWeek)
• Researchers have developed a method to produce H2 from corn, potatoes, and other forms of starch at low temperatue and pressure. The system produces 3 times more energy than ethanol and could be operational by about '15. (TechnologyReview 5/25/07)
• Millennium Cell Company uses sodium borohydride to produce hydrogen on demand. (TechnologyReview)
• Wind turbines are so efficient that they can be used to split water into H2 directly at competitive rates. "We can produce a liter of H2 for about 20 pence," said a British researcher. "The same price as petrol." (NewScientist) 
• Penn State U. uses bacteria to derive 4 times as much hydrogen from biomass than by fermentation alone. (live.psu.edu)
• The Weizmann Institute in Israel developed a system that uses Magnesium or Aluminum to split H2 out of water on board a car efficiently at low cost. (Isracast.com)
• Oxford U. scientists replace metal catalysts with enzymes from baceteria and fungus to make fuel cells that are smaller, cheaper, and biodegradeable. (NewScientist, 4/21/06)
• U. of N. Carolina researchers have developed a proton-exchange membrane that increases electric flow in a fuel cell 2-3 times more than current membranes. Plans are to improve this by another 20-40 times. (TechnologyReview, 5/5/06)
• Purdue U. has discovered how to create H2 on demand by causing H2O to react with pellets of aluminum and gallium. The system would avoid the need to store H2 and produces gas at $3.00/gallon. (News.com 5/18/07)
CAR DEVELOPMENT More than 100 companies are developing fuel cell cars, with significant gains in driving range, power density, cost, durability, and weight. (National Research Council, 2008):
• Hyundai introduced its i-Blue Fuel Cell Electric Car in 2008 and Volkswagen has a Space Up! Blue concept car powered by lithium-ion batteries and a fuel cell or a solar panel. (www.greencar.com)
• In 2008 Honda began leasing 200 of its fuel cell Clarity sedans in California and Japan, and is setting up dealerships. The car is actually a hybrid because the fuel cell recharges a battery as well as powers the engine directly, increasing the life of the fuel cell. The car get's 68 MPG and has a range of 270 miles. (Honda News Release 6/16/08)
•  GM is investing $1 billion/year in hydrogen research and intends to become the first auto maker to sell 1 million fuel cell cars. Chevrolet's "Project Driveway" is testing 100 fuel cell Equinox cars as the first step in commercialization. A GM official said “Fuel cells are the first technology in 100 years with the potential to compete with the internal combustion engine. (http://www.chevrolet/)
• Cientifica, a leading nanotech company, has used carbon nanotubes to build fuel cells with a 10-fold improvement in performance and cost. (businesswire, 4/18/05) Other research has produced fuel-cell catalysts made of nanoparticles that are 5 times more effective than platinum (TechnologyReview 5/5/10). 
HIGH COST Fuel cell autos are still uneconomical. Some estimate the cost of the fuel-cell system alone at $30,000, making the total cost of fuel-cell autos non-competitive. Further, the cost of hydrogen is presently several times that of gas. Additionally, the US government will have to invest $55 billion on hydrogen infrastructure, while and government and industry would have to spend about $16 billion more on research. (The National Research Council, 2008)
TECHNOLOGY IS LIMITED Methods for extracting hydrogen are still not yet clearly defined nor commercially feasible. For instance, clean water must be used for hydrolysis because the energy required to split sea water into hydrogen increases 10-fold.
POSSIBLE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS Some scientists warn that hydrogen from fuel cells could leak into the atmosphere and disrupt the ozone layer, and others claim producing hydrogen from oil and coal would release carbon dioxide (Science).
INFRASTRUCTURE Gasoline refineries, gas stations, distribution systems, and the entire infrastructure of auto fuel would have to change. The first automated liquid hydrogen fueling station was opened in Munich in 1999, and others are being used now.
COMPETING TECHNOLOGIES The fuel economy and environmental cleanup achieved by hybrids, diesels, improved gasoline powered autos, and all electric vehicles may eliminate the need for fuel cell autos before the technical barriers are overcome.
RELIABILITY Fuel cells have not been tested beyond much more than 200 hours of use on cars, so it is not clear they can provide reliable life cycles approaching 5,000 hours or 100,000 miles.
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Public Comments
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Al Leedahl (9/23/2009 8:59:46 AM)
Producing hydrogen on-the-go from gasoline seems to be the most practical way to go--initially at least, if the technology gets any traction at all. I've heard reports about fuel cells for years, yet nothing seems to happen!
John A. "Skip" Laitner (1/9/2010 9:45:31 AM)
Perhaps a critical update, on September 10, 2009 Daimler, Shell, Total, Vattenfall and others signed an MOU for a “H2 Mobility” initiative in which these companies will build up a nationwide hydrogen infrastructure in Germany. This includes a significant expansion of hydrogen fueling stations network by the end of 2011. Leading vehicle manufacturers have also agreed to pursue the development and commercialization of electric vehicles with fuel cells. Their plans call for several hundred thousand units anticipated from 2015 and onward.
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