GM’s Equinox Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Makes a stop at the International Trade Center, and I get a first hand look. The car costs approximately 1.5 million dollars to produce, and by General Motors estimates, wouldn’t be available for sale for another 10 to 15 years.
Editor’s Note: This post is a guest contribution by Adam Shake.
[social_buttons] It was an overcast Friday morning in Washington D.C., and stepping off the Metro at the Federal Triangle stop in Washington D.C., I had been thinking about how Global Warming was contributing to the strength of Hurricane Hannah. Hurricane Ike was right on her coat tails, and looked to be like one of the largest Hurricanes on record.
Rounding the corner of the International Trade Center to enter the building from Pennsylvania Avenue, I saw an S.U.V. parked on the plaza with a small shelter positioned near it. Inside the shelter were stacks of brochures and four people standing beneath it, staying out of the impending rain.
Intrigued, I stepped over to the vehicle to have a closer look. The doors were open, showing a spacious interior and well designed dash board. The vehicle was running, and idling quietly as I stuck my head into the front seat, inhaling that new car smell.
“Can I help you?”, asked a young lady, who had a moment ago, been standing under the shelter.
“Yes”, I answered. This vehicle runs on Hydrogen, right?
“That’s right. It runs on a Hydrogen Fuel Cell, and the only thing it emits is water vapor.”
Knowing a little bit about hydrogen cell technology and the struggling logistics behind it, I asked “How long do you estimate, until Hydrogen Cell Vehicles will be available on the American market?”
It was at this point that she referred me to the expert. A man showing another interested consumer the “gas” tank fuel door. I stepped around to that side of the vehicle and waited while the expert answered the mans questions.
When it was my turn, I asked him a series of questions that he didn’t really seem comfortable answering. It turns out that the particular vehicle I was looking at, cost approximately 1.5 million dollars to produce, and by General Motors estimates, wouldn’t be available for sale for another 10 to 15 years.
Some other interesting facts that I was able to pick up were that there are only about 12 locations in the United States where these vehicles can be re-fueled, and of course they are not open to the public. This is a serious logistical problem as the vehicle can only travel between 150 and 200 miles on a single hydrogen charge. This particular vehicle had been fueled in New York City and driven to Washington D.C. where it re-fueled at Ft. Belvoir.
After taking some brochures, I headed up to my office and after returning home, started doing some research. It turns out that General Motors, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency, have collaborated on a program called “Project Driveway.” General Motor’s explains Project Driveway as “The first large-scale market test of fuel cell vehicles with real drivers in the real world.”
So how does Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology work?
A fuel cell is a lot like a battery. What it does is convert the chemicals hydrogen and and oxygen into water, and it’s this chemical process that creates electricity. The fuel cell, or battery, doesn’t hold a charge though, so it needs a constant stream of hydrogen to power the electric powered drive-train.
As with any new technology, there are a lot of questions that surround it. Now I’m all for a technology that offers a clean alternative to oil dependency, but it would be even better if it was safe, economically viable, and didn’t use too much energy to create it. So here are some answers that I was able to come up with.
How much does Hydrogen cost, or how much will it cost when it becomes available to consumers?
Right now, hydrogen that is used in commercial applications costs between $2.00 and $5.00 per kilogram. A kilogram weighs approximately 2.2 lbs and a gallon weighs about 8 lbs, so it would take between 3 and 4 kilograms to equal the weight of 1 gallon. This equates to $6.00 and $20.00 dollars in weight equivalency in today’s dollars. (A huge variance at the present time) But the Department of Energy states that when it does become commercially available, it will be available at or below then current gasoline rates.
Does it take more energy to produce Hydrogen than it saves?
Most sources claim that Hydrogen, which is created by using a natural gas process, uses less energy from “Well to Wheels” than Gasoline, and of course, being a non-contributor to CO2 exhaust, off-sets the “Fuel Pollution” equation. “Hydrogen Now!” advocates utilizing renewal resources to produce Hydrogen, saying ” Since renewable energy, such as wind, is inexhaustible, we will never run out of the ability to produce all the hydrogen we need.”
Is it safe?
Like any other combustible gas or liquid, Hydrogen is flammable, however the technology and practices to keep it safe are already in place. Hydrogen is just as safe as Gasoline.
Like any new technology, Hydrogen Fuel will take a while to catch on. But do we have that kind of time? There are a lot of fuel alternatives in the works. Which one is the best answer to our addiction to oil and all the negative side effects that result from it? Well, Hydrogen is certainly a contender, but the question remains to be answered. “Can enough people get behind it, quick enough, to keep another alternative that is not as environmentally friendly, from making it to mass market?”