MIT Explains Why Toyota and GM are Pushing Hydrogen

Toyota Hydrogen Car

In recent months, GM, Toyota, and Honda have all made big public commitments to put hydrogen fuel cell equipped cars on the road by 2016. Some of their moves can be explained by President Obama’s expected hydrogen push and pressure from oil companies and gas-station owners to keep their infrastructure relevant in a non-petroleum economy.

Hydrogen fueled cars’ primary emissions are, of course, water vapor – so they’re vastly cleaner than petroleum fueled cars at first glance. They also have the potential to be convenient, since they can be refueled in about the same time it takes to fill a liquid fuel tank. Still, despite gas station owners’ vested interest in a liquid-fuel model, they’ve been surprisingly resistant to investing in the technology. Last year, for example, only 27 hydrogen filling stations were added to America’s infrastructure. That’s surprising for a technology that was once “the darling of the Bush administration” (Bush called for $1.2 billion in gov’t funding to develop fuel-cell technology in his 2003 State of the Union address).

Since then, of course, we’ve all learned that there are a lot of questions about just how environmentally friendly hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles actually are when the hydrogen that fuels them comes from natural gas, a fossil fuel that’s produced through highly controversial “fracking” processes that releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide (at best).

So, what’s really going on here? Why the sudden spark of interest? Kevin Bullis, of MIT’s Technology Review magazine, explains that, sometimes, “miracles do happen”.

Since 2009, the costs involved with fuel-cell vehicles have fallen. The prototypes that GM and Toyota built a few years ago cost well over $1 million each. Now Toyota says its goal is to sell its fuel-cell sedan for less than $100,000. Costs fell as Toyota found ways to reduce the number of parts in its fuel-cell system and to decrease the amount of costly platinum needed. The company says it’s pushing hard on R&D for manufacturing technology, among other things, to lower costs still more ahead of the 2015 launch …

… “Costs have come down at a pretty steady rate,” says Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis and a member of California’s Air Resources Board, which oversees vehicle emissions regulations. “Most people in the auto industry think that, once in large-scale production, cost won’t be a barrier.”

All of that is just a long-winded way of saying “these guys are building hydrogen cars now because they can make money with them.” Looks like Kevin and I have very different definitions of the word “miracle”, you know?

You know.


Source: MIT Technology Review.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.