Are fuel cell EVs still an option?

A recent article for Michigan Radio brought our attention back to fuel cells as an alternative - alternative fuel.

Hydrogen powered cars seem to almost be a thing of the past, as automakers now mostly focus on battery-powered cars like the Bolt.

But there are a few automakers, including GM, that are still developing cars with fuel cells, just not with the same speed and fervor. Michigan Radio asked GM’s head of Global Product Development, Mark Reuss, about it:

“GM's Reuss told me infrastructure is a big reason for why GM is holding back on a commercial release of fuel cell vehicles. That's why the more aggressive fuel cell carmakers, like Honda, are planning limited commercial releases in California - that's where most of the hydrogen fueling stations are in the U.S.”

The article then pointed to former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s statement that it would take "four miracles" to make fuel cells in cars work.

Those are: expanded infrastructure, a more cost efficient way to make fuel cells, a cleaner way to derive hydrogen and a lighter, and less expensive hydrogen gas tank.

It’s worth noting that these are some of the same problems that batteries face. First off, It’s no secret we need more public charging stations.

Part of reason the Bolt is being hailed as revolutionary is because of its modest price tag, since previous high-mileage battery vehicles were only available in the luxury car segment.

And the argument that producing hydrogen is a carbon intensive process is not unlike the argument that EVs are only as clean as the electric grid.

Right now, however, it seems batteries are surmounting these hurdles at a quicker pace than fuel cells.  But don’t count them out completely.  University of Michigan Ross School of Business professor, Andrew Hoffman, recently told PRI that with the car of the future so uncertain, auto companies need a finger in every pot.

“Electrics, hybrids, fuel cells … because if you bet wrong you could find yourself in trouble,” says Hoffman.

So most automakers are keeping their options open, and investing at least a little time, money and effort in a few different options. It’ll be interesting to see what wins out.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Niall Kennedy via Creative Commons license