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Transportation

Multiple Manufacturers Push Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars, But Can They Catch Tesla? 293

MojoKid writes After years of working on prototype vehicles, multiple car companies have announced a major push for hydrogen fuel cell automobiles. At the LA Auto Show last week, Toyota showed off its Mirai, a four-door passenger sedan with a $57,500 base sticker price and a hydrogen-only fuel system. Honda recently delayed its hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle until 2016, while Hyundai is planning to build 1000 fuel-cell powered Tucson's by the end of the year. Currently, most proposed hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are actually combined hydrogen-electric designs. Hydrogen gas, under enormous pressure, is used to drive a generator, which then charges a lithium-ion battery. Toyota plans to sell up to 3,000 Mirai a year by 2017, which would put it well below Tesla's own sales projections for its Model S — but at a lower overall price point. The pressurized fuel tanks in the Mirai can hold a total of 122 liters of hydrogen for an estimated range of 300 miles. A standard gasoline-powered car with a 122L capacity at 30mpg would be capable of traveling 960 miles. Proponents of hydrogen point to the vastly improved fueling time (roughly equal that of gasoline) as opposed to the 20-60 minutes required to recharge a vehicle like Tesla's Model S.
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Multiple Manufacturers Push Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars, But Can They Catch Tesla?

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  • and for over 50 grand? at that price point might as well just wait it out and get the tesla!
  • It's not inconceivable that fuel cell cars will be a success but the current state of tech is much better suited to stationary storage or heavy vehicles.
    From the few reviews I've found, they seem to a bit on the sluggish side unless paired with a battery, which makes them more expensive.

    As for catching Tesla, they'll really have to throw money and resources into it - Tesla is NOT standing still and they've already built out their fast charging infrastructure.
    Hydrogen transport and storage is nowhere near as

    • It's not inconceivable that fuel cell cars will be a success, but fundamental physics dictates that if this happens it will be due to human stupidity rather than technical superiority.

      Hydrogen is a terrible energy storage medium compared to modern battery technology. The only possible advantages it has are (a) you can generate it from fossil fuels, and (b) it lends itself far more in today's rooftop-solar-filled world to central control and taxation.
      • by Junta ( 36770 )

        Hydrogen is a terrible energy storage medium compared to modern battery technology.

        Well maybe for combustion, but wait til we put fusion plants in every car...

        • True that. Fuel cells can't compete realistically with batteries as a vehicle power source, but damn if I don't want Mr Fusion in my car.
          • Ofc fuel cells can, hence they are placed into cars now.
            Your information/assumption is outdated since 20 years or more.

        • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

          And in the future, we can shoot them and they'll make awesome explosions when we need to kill some pesky super mutants.

      • That is right, erm, or not?
        The best battery based cars have a range of 500 miles, most far less.
        A hydrogen fuel cell car has a range of 1500 ...
        A battery based car needs hours to reload.
        A hydrogen fuel cell car around 5 mins.

        Hydrogen might have draw backs, but in comparison with 'battery' tech it rocks!

        • by mspohr ( 589790 )

          Just a few facts:
          Toyota fuel cell car has a range of 300 miles... same as the electric Tesla.
          Tesla can recharge in 20 minutes at a SuperCharger, not "hours".
          Electric outlets are everywhere... hydrogen refuel stations are... where? (I think there might be one in California).

    • Hydrogen makes some sense for long haul trucks and Greyhound and alike. The high capital investment of filling stations and the rest of the infrastructure etc can be more easily absorbed by fleets. It makes almost no sense for passenger cars.
      However, Kenworths, Macks and Volvos of the world are in no rush to do that capital investment from their side, lacking any serious incentives.

  • I believe next generation batteries will be able to charge much faster; a 5-10 minute full charge seems to be achievable.
    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      It's not achievable in the near future, because the speed at which the batteries can absorb energy isn't the sole limiting factor. Charging an 85 kWh battery pack in 5 minutes requires a charging cable/port that is dumping slightly more than a megawatt into the car, which isn't practical. The limitations are things like the cable, the connector, the power grid, etc.

      A far more likely scenario is that charging will get a little bit faster, and battery swaps will be used when more speed is required.

  • Long term, fully electric cars make a lot more sense, so it's very wasteful to invest in all the required hydrogen infrastructure, only to abandon it when fully electric technology is mature enough.
    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      A fuel cell + hydrogen tank have a much higher energy density (even when measured in fuel cell output) as any battery in the next couple of years will have. Therefore, there could be a market. Especially, as with renewable energy sources the production of hydrogen could be triggered just then when there is an overproduction of electricity and store it.

      But, true cars (electric or otherwise) are not the best solution for all our transportation problems. Therefore, we must move away from them where they are a

      • by itzly ( 3699663 )
        Battery technology will keep improving, and to convert a sizeable chunk of our infrastructure to hydrogen requires decades not a couple of years. By that time, batteries may be good enough. Also, electrolysis isn't very efficient, and neither are fuel cells. And with enough electric cars hooked up to the grid, you can use their batteries as flexible storage for renewable sources.
      • A fuel cell + hydrogen tank have a much higher energy density (even when measured in fuel cell output) as any battery in the next couple of years will have.

        Which is irrelevant because hydrogen powered vehicles lack even rudimentary refueling infrastructure and thus will not be a meaningful part of the discussion for at least another 10-20 years a minimum.

        Especially, as with renewable energy sources the production of hydrogen could be triggered just then when there is an overproduction of electricity and store it.

        You have to have something to do with the hydrogen. We have no infrastructure that could absorb such production even if it made economic sense to store energy that way. It's a solvable problem if the economics make sense but doing so would take considerable time. Not a bad idea in principle but I don't know

      • Actually in practice it seems to be the contrary. A Testa and the Hydrogen Toyota get aound 250 miles on a full charge/tank. But if you compare the drivetrain of a tesla and the Toyota you'll see the Tesla is much more compact. The front space 'frunk' is empty in the Tesla and full in the Toyota. In addition the Toyota need sapce under all seats and part of the truck is used too. The entire drivetrain and energy storage of a Tesla is in the floor and does not get in the way.

  • I think the major manufacturers are afraid of the reduced parts count that pure electric cars have and the implied loss of profit margin because of it. So they keep trying to sell hybrid systems that bundle an internal combustion engine with an electric motor in order to keep the parts count high.

    • You are right of course, but that's not really a central part of this particular story. Hydrogen fuel cells are not internal combustion engines.

    • That's ridiculous. The history of business is someone coming along with a way to cut their costs a small percent, reduce their prices that much plus a little extra (i.e. reducing their profit margin), then using the new, low price to totally destroy the competition. That's exactly how Japanese car markers took down GM, Ford and Chrysler.

      Every single car executive knows that is what happens and there is no way they are going to make the same mistake that American car companies made in the 70's and 80's

      • by sshir ( 623215 )
        We're not talking about evolutionary change but revolutionary. Drop in parts number is so drastic that it allows for more competitors to sprung up (hence Tesla). The risk for established players is in going from oligopoly and into a commoditized market. And that hurts. Badly.
        • We're not talking about evolutionary change but revolutionary. Drop in parts number is so drastic that it allows for more competitors to sprung up (hence Tesla)

          I'm a cost accountant and I do this sort of stuff for a living. You have the cost accounting completely wrong. The different in part numbers provides Tesla no cost advantage at this time because the parts they have to buy are significantly more expensive. Electric vehicles have such low sales volumes currently that any cost advantage they might have from reduced part counts is hugely swamped by the high R&D costs and fixed costs of production. They simply don't have enough volume to reach minimum ef

      • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

        You're misrepresenting the history of the Japanese vs. U.S. auto manufacturers. There were many reasons why the U.S. failed, and to reduce it to "someone coming along with a way to cut their costs a small percent..." is just revisionist history. The Japanese didn't have nearly as much overhead as U.S. manufacturers. They didn't have to fight with the UAW year after year. They didn't have a huge pension program that had to be covered by the cost of every vehicle sold. And, while they sold crap vehicles

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday November 24, 2014 @10:55AM (#48448905)

      I think the major manufacturers are afraid of the reduced parts count that pure electric cars have and the implied loss of profit margin because of it.

      I'm in the auto industry and I'm a cost accountant. The part count on cars generally has only a modest (though significant) effect on profit margin and increasing part counts usually implies negative effects on profit margin. If anything they would welcome the reduced part counts because it would likely reduce costs, particularly warranty, production and maybe engineering. It's a competitive market so unnecessarily inflating part counts translates into reduced profit margin, not increased like you are implying.

      So they keep trying to sell hybrid systems that bundle an internal combustion engine with an electric motor in order to keep the parts count high.

      They sell hybrids because that is the state of the technology. We don't have the battery technology or charging infrastructure to go fully electric yet outside of some niche markts. We may in due time but not today. Hybrids are expensive because the technology is new, complex and doesn't enjoy full economies of scale yet.

    • I think the major manufacturers are afraid of the reduced parts count that pure electric cars have and the implied loss of profit margin because of it.

      And there you have the base reason why so many states are trying to ban Tesla sales. Not having to get screwed over by dealerships and parts suppliers, and manufacturers are giving these people fits.

      So they keep trying to sell hybrid systems that bundle an internal combustion engine with an electric motor in order to keep the parts count high.

      I think that is more of a happy side effect for them. Right now, hybrids avoid the anxiety many feel of "What if I suddenly feel like driving from Florida to Alaska?"

      It really doesn't matter though, because in the end, unless there is an outright ban on EV's they are gonna win this one. Just a matter of time.

      • "What if I suddenly feel like driving from Florida to Alaska?"

        How about Arizona to Fairbanks. [autoblog.com] Seventeen days for the trip is quite a long time, though. I've driven between LA and Fairbanks twice, and can do it in 7 days without pushing too hard.

  • Is it a car powered by gas under pressure, or is it hydrogen fuel-cell, where the gas is catalysed with Oxygen to produce electricity? How is it so horribly inefficient, given how we already know how horribly inefficient combustion engines are? Is it simply a case that, no matter how compressed you get the gas, you have not compressed it to liquid levels?

  • Fuel cells are 100% PR. Like solar cells, they are decades away from being economical.

    I'd greatly prefer to see something practical and can be made today. A natural gas powered Honda Fit with an inexpensive home refueler would be ideal.

    • Fuel cells are 100% PR. Like solar cells, they are decades away from being economical.

      Then again, so are all the alternatives.

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      " Like solar cells, they are decades away from being economical."

      Yea... no. They've been economical for several years. Have you been paying attention to China pumping out tons of them at like $0.4/W? $100 for a 250w panel. A few years ago, that was more like $200. And the prices are only dropping faster and further with many more countries starting to realize Solar is indeed a viable energy source. Combine with extremely high-efficiency tech, like LED lighting, and the realization of not needing that much S

      • How long do these panels actually last? What size footprint are they? Is it a roof-sized 250W panel, or a small 250W panel that lets me draw more power per area?
  • We have propane, natural gas, automotive fuel and electricity widely available. The cost of building a 5th energy source is prevent Hydrogen from going anywhere. ...

  • Honda recently delayed its hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle until 2016, while Hyundai is planning to build 1000 fuel-cell powered Tucson's by the end of the year

    Wow! A whole 1000 cars. Drop meet ocean. [/sarcasm] Those sorts of production volumes make even electric cars look like hot sellers.

    Proponents of hydrogen point to the vastly improved fueling time (roughly equal that of gasoline) as opposed to the 20-60 minutes required to recharge a vehicle like Tesla's Model S.

    With the downside that there is no refueling infrastructure in place. At all. Kinda hard to refuel your car in 5 minutes if there is nowhere to refuel it. And without a substantial number of hydrogen powered cars on the road there is no economic incentive to build hydrogen refueling stations. If you ever needed an example of a strawman argument, here you have it. Elect

    • by plover ( 150551 )

      Infrastructure has to be built one sale at a time. Tesla is demonstrating one way to do it with their supercharger network, with trickle chargers in the home, and supercharging stations scattered around the country, trying to bridge gaps in coverage.

      A hydrogen infrastructure will look different, because pressurized hydrogen isn't as ubiquitous as electricity. They might have better luck with a regional approach, selling commuter cars in one city, and building up an infrastructure there just to prove it ca

  • The more options we have, the better the competition for one to win out, and the faster we get off of oil. To me it doesn't matter if they get better performance than Tesla right now or even the near future.

  • Right now, you can get a electric Lamborghini Aventador [radioshack.com] for only $29.99 so don't tell me electric cars are too expensive.

  • Apart from all of the problems storing, transporting, and obtaining hydrogen (both in terms of the often fossil-based source and the difficulty of finding some to put in your car), it's about as expensive as gasoline per mile. And the cars are no cheaper either.

  • The first non-spam comment on the article: "Clean energy!" Right... That rather depends on where the hydrogen comes from. If it's made by cracking water with energy from coal power plants, well...

    Hydrogen has potential, but the manufacturers have some big problems to solve. Accident safety with those high-pressure (700 atmosphere) tanks. Leakage - hydrogen is very difficult to contain. A fueling infrastructure - at least with electric vehicles, any plug will do in a pinch. Transport - if you have fueling st

  • in a dragrace between fuelcell cars and a tesla model s, the tesla car driver will only see the fuelcell cars in front of him/her. (or is it the other way around? can't seem to remember).

  • At least, compressed hydrogen gas is really questionable.

    Besides the well-known problems associated with containing hydrogen, I'm skeptical that it makes sense to build out a whole new distribution system. We have an extensive network in place for distributing gasoline and smaller ones for distributing compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid propane (LP), but hydrogen gas is very different from any of those three. We also have a network in place for distributing electricity. Granted that it will have to be beefed up in many ways to support a society of all electric vehicles, that still seems like a much easier task. Particularly since with the increasing deployment of home PV generation, the electric grid might not need to be beefed up as much as we think.

    It all really comes down to the cost of batteries. The only saving grace of compressed hydrogen vs batteries is that big batteries are expensive. And somewhat heavy, but probably not much heavier than the tanks needed to contain hydrogen. So is it cheaper to build lots of batteries and improve the electric grid where needed, or to build out an entirely new distribution infrastructure?

    My money is on electric vehicles. Battery prices are falling just due to small incremental improvements plus scaling, and there are a number of technologies on the horizon that promise to significantly increase the kWh/$ ratio. Yes, yes, many of them have been "on the horizon" for a while, but there are so many promising technologies that it seems very probable that at least one will work out. Note that I'm not talking about recharge times, because Tesla has already solved that problem... given ~300 miles range and a one-hour recharge time, you're good even for cross-country trips.

    Another option that might make a lot of sense is fuel cells that run on gasoline or CNG. Those would have many of the benefits of an EV (quiet, powerful electric drive; very simple, low-maintenance drive train), but could use existing fueling infrastructure. They still emit some CO2, but less than ICEs.

    (Disclaimer: I own an electric vehicle.)

    • Containing hydrogen is easy. You just build a hollow, spherical core of an aluminum superalloy, 12mm thick, surrounded by 654 concentric 1-atom-thick graphene shells. This provides the highest tensile strength of any material manufactured to date, and acts as a perfect rotational bearing.

      Around this, you place a gyroscope constructed of a sphere of ultrapolished silicone, 2cm thick, plated on its interior with 7mm of niobium, and assembled from two fused hemispheres. The gyro itself is suspended in su

    • My money is on electric vehicles. Battery prices are falling just due to small incremental improvements plus scaling, and there are a number of technologies on the horizon that promise to significantly increase the kWh/$ ratio. Yes, yes, many of them have been "on the horizon" for a while, but there are so many promising technologies that it seems very probable that at least one will work out.

      The smart money is indeed on electric vehicles. The smarter money is on not putting all our eggs in one basket.

    • Besides the well-known problems associated with containing hydrogen, I'm skeptical that it makes sense to build out a whole new distribution system. We have an extensive network in place for distributing gasoline and smaller ones for distributing compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid propane (LP), but hydrogen gas is very different from any of those three. We also have a network in place for distributing electricity.

      If you run down the list of known chemical and electrical means to store energy, you find

  • Sure, instead of fully electric, where cars can charge off of the current grid (with the right outlet installed), let's invest is a fully proprietary fuel source.

  • Is that a 122 L tank or is it the volume of Hydrogen at STP?

    Why not compare the distance you could travel with 122 L of liquid Hydrogen against 122 L gasoline vapors? (of course, that wouldn't fit with the narrative they are trying to put forward)

  • It is mostly produced from hydrocarbon fractionation, mostly natural gas fractionation. It can also be produced from coal. It there does nothing to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and the process release large amounts of CO2. So, in my opinion, it is a useless road to go down and a scam.

  • Isn't there something completely wrong about this sentence? Aside from the bad grammar, I mean...

    "Hydrogen gas, under enormous pressure, is used to drive a generator, which then charged a lithium-ion battery."

    Or are they using the word "generator" where they actually mean "fuel cell"? And should we be surprised that "most proposed hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are actually combined hydrogen-electric designs"? I'm not seeing many internal combustion hydrogen designs hitting the market.

    Surely there was a better

  • Unfortunately, Hydrogen won't take off (at least in the US). The reason is fairly simple, gas stations don't want it to. The current gasoline infrastructure won't work as is for Hydrogen, and the gas companies and providers don;t want to retrofit to be able to handle it. Tesla has the advantage of being able to create it's own infrastructure outside of gas stations, since all they need is a power line. But with having to have holding tanks and dispensers, Hydrogen is going to be locked into using existing g

  • Here are all 13 h2 fueling in America. [slashdot.org]
    Here are more than 8700 electric stations in America which does not include RVs . [slashdot.org]

    That is why Tesla is going to win out on this.
    Hell, Tesla offers 130 stations in the US, that allows tesla owners to charge for free. [slashdot.org]
    And within several years, you can swap out the battery pack in less time and cheaper than H2.
  • One technology for batteries that could be developed is for a charging station to replace your electric car batteries with freshly charged ones. You could potentially be in and out faster than refueling by gas. That would be one solution to overcome the lengthy recharging.

    I imagine there are still a lot of hurdles to jump over to get such a system working:
    - How to design batteries so they can be replaced easily and quickly. Perhaps each car might have several sets of batteries, some of which can be easily r

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