Despite being “just around the corner” for the past thirty years or more, there’s been a real push in recent years by automakers like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai to promote hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as being a more practical alternative to battery electric vehicles. Aided by a number of different filling station companies, these automakers have pushed the idea that electric vehicles aren’t capable of traveling as far as a comparable hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, are more expensive to own, and take far longer to refuel.
The reality however has been somewhat different: even though the fastest charging electric car charging standard used today (Tesla’s Supercharger network) takes longer to refuel from empty to full than a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, battery electric vehicles are winning the fight to for supremacy in the zero tailpipe emission vehicle world. For example, not only is the the range of a high-end Tesla Model S P100 a little higher than the range of the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan, but it’s possible to travel from coast to coast by electric car without a spot of range anxiety.
Travelling by hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is, by contrast, all but impossible outside of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a handful of cities around the world where a few hydrogen filling stations already exist. Add in the costs associated with installing and maintaining that infrastructure — not to mention the cost of producing the (currently hand-made) hydrogen fuel cell stacks that form the heart of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle — and even hardened hydrgoen fuel cell advocates like Toyota and Honda have changed their tune of late. Indeed, in recent months, we’ve seen Toyota, Honda and Hyundai switch from a future product plan that ignores battery electric vehicles in favor of hydrogen fuel cells to one in which both technologies are either produced side by side or with a slight bias towards battery electric vehicles.
But as Automotive News (subscription required) details, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai — alongside Daimler and BMW — haven’t given up on hydrogen fuel cell technology completely. Instead, these five major automakers have just joined eight other companies to form a so-called hydrogen council that will lobby and consult with policy makers around the world to further the case for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Alongside the named automakers, other partners in newly-formed group include Royal Dutch Shell, Total SA, Air Liquide, Linde AG, Anglo American PLC, Engie SA, Alstom SA and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. Together, they represent everything from the oil and gas industry to utility companies, mining firms and heavy equipment manufacturing. Announced during the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the lobbying and advocacy group will oversee more than $10.7
million billion in investment from its partner companies to bring various hydrogen-related products to market in the next five years.
“The world of energy is transforming very, very fast,” said Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden during the World Economic Forum. “Hydrogen has massive potential.” It’s a view shared by Toyota Chairman and Hydrogen Council Co-Chair Takeshi Uchiyamada, who reiterated Toyota’s own commitment to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in a statement issued earlier today.
“In addition to transportation, hydrogen has the potential to support our transition to a low-carbon society across multiple industries and the entire value chain,” he said.
But while the newly-founded Hydrogen Council has the support of some big players in both the automotive and industrial world, it does seem a little like a last-ditch attempt to try and promote hydrogen fuel cell technology in a world where plug-in vehicles appear to have the upper hand. Indeed, with cars like the Tesla Model S, Tesla Model X, and Chevrolet Bolt EV all offering ranges in excess of 200 miles per charge, the claim that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are far superior to battery electric vehicles has little ground for most drivers.
Add in the benefits battery electric vehicles have over hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — like improved interior load bay space and a higher power to weight ratio — and the Hydrogen Council may face an uphill struggle to convince governments or car buyers that hydrogen is the fuel of the future.
Insted, we’d politely suggest (albeit with our battery-electric bias) that the Hydrogen Council focuses on the applications where hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may have the upper hand over battery electric vehicles: heavy freight haulage.
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