Fuel Cell Vehicles

In case you missed it a few weeks ago, Toyota and Honda have released pilot hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for the US market. As reported in this LA Times article from 3 December (registration required), both companies will participate in leasing and research programs with universities and local governments:

The automaker is leasing each vehicle for $10,000 a month for 30 months but is supplying most of the lease money through grants. As part of the program, four hydrogen fueling stations have been opened and two more are planned by summer to link drivers of fuel-cell cars in the northern and southern parts of the state, said James Press, chief operating officer for Torrance-based Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Honda is leasing five of its four-passenger FCX fuel-cell vehicles to Los Angeles for daily use in the city fleet and on Monday presented Mayor James K. Hahn with keys to the first one. The city will pay a nominal $500 a month for each vehicle, and Honda will provide fueling services.

Analysts said the two programs should go a long way toward generating performance data that can help industry, government and the public better understand and perfect fuel-cell technology.

Last week, Tom Redburn proclaimed this achievement in the New York Times (registration required) the recent event most likely to have the longest-term impact on the economy. This claim is not hyperbole, as dramatic shifts in the fueling and energy basis for economic activity have been at the core of every fundamental shift in economic activity (industrial revolution, anyone?). But it’s not quick or immediate — both Honda and Toyota caution that mass commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is still more than a decade away.

According to a superb project done for my Environmental Economics class this fall, there are at least three different ways of producing hydrogen, but all still require expensive inputs like platinum and do not generate a lot of energy for the cost relative to existing internal combustion/fossil fuel technologies. Pilot programs with vehicles in day-to-day use should certainly generate some valuable information for researchers.

More later on the chicken-and-egg problem of demand for vehicles and the fueling infrastructure …