Hydrogen as a clean fuel has long been the darling of futurists. A power source that has no waste products other than water vapor and heat? What’s not to like? Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. It’s practically free. Why not use it to power a civilization that creates no carbon, methane, or nitrogen emissions whatsoever?
Please don’t start posting nastygrams to me in the comments section yet. I am not a hydrogenophile. I can reel off a dozen reasons why hydrogen is not the magic bullet many people assume it is. But there are a lot of people who see hydrogen as the way out of our fossil fuel pollution mess and more are getting on the hydrogen fuel bandwagon every day.
Mercedes, BMW, and Toyota have just entered into an agreement to spend $10 billion over the next 5 years to spur growth in the hydrogen fueling infrastructure and to pursue hydrogen fuel cell research. The three car makers, together with Honda, Hyundai, Shell, AirLiquide, Linde, and Total, want to lay the groundwork that will make it possible for hydrogen fuel cell cars to go mainstream. They announced their plans this week in Davos, Switzerland.
The companies have named their effort the Hydrogen Council. They believe hydrogen “can play an important role in the transition to a clean, low-carbon, energy system.” The Hydrogen Council also vows to push global governments to accelerate public investment in hydrogen related infrastructure as part of the overall effort to curb greenhouse gases mandated by the Paris climate accords.
People fret about electric car sales but the number of fuel cell cars on the road is minuscule. Toyota leased 1,034 Mirai fuel cell sedans last year. Mercedes is about to start marketing its GLC plug-in hydrogen fuel-cell crossover later this year.
Hydrogen infrastructure is almost nonexistent in the US. Of the 33 publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations in the country, 30 are in California. In addition, there is one each in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, according to the US Department of Energy. By comparison, there are more than 15,000 electric-vehicle charging stations with almost 40,000 outlets in the US.
You may now begin your anti-hydrogen rants. I’ll start. Why on earth would these companies sink precious resources into selling hydrogen fueled cars? The same companies who are pushing for fuel cell infrastructure have been dragging their feet for years when it comes to EV charging infrastructure. Most of them have embraced the idea of electric cars the way one would hug a porcupine — very slowly and with great reluctance.
There is something wrong with this picture but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Can you help me out?