Given that many automakers are putting a lot of R&D [Research and Development] money into hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, can we be certain that they ARE coming, but will they be the future?
Right now, the only hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in production is made by Honda Motor Company, and still in very small numbers. In the next few years, between 2015 and 2020, a number of other automakers are expected to begin production, including Toyota Motor Company, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Hyundai Motor Company. Mazda Motor Company and others are also dabbling in the technology, but will these cars make it?
For the closest vision we have of what the future of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle might be like, we could look at the beginning of the electric vehicle. A number of electric vehicles have come and gone, very few of them successful. Thanks to their lithium-ion battery packs, electric vehicles are more expensive than conventional vehicles, but are also very low-polluting. Aside from expense, recharging stations and recharging times remain a sticking point that drives many potential clients away. Still, successful electric vehicles, such as Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, and Chevy Volt [sort of], are showing the way forward, in spite of the difficulties.
Could hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have the same growth pattern? Like the Tesla Model S, which is the most capable electric vehicle in production, the Toyota FCV Concept is expected to be expensive, around $50,000 for a small sedan, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. That’s a lot of money for a Corolla. Second, like the limited number of public-access electric vehicle fast-charging stations, hydrogen refueling stations are even more limited, no more than 300 globally [There are more than 100,000 gasoline stations in the United States, alone.]
I think the biggest sticking point for the viability of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has to be the hydrogen fuel, itself. Produced via electrolysis, hydrogen gas then needs to be compressed for use in the vehicle. All told, it isn’t a very efficient process [Could we deal with solar-powered hydrogen, in spite of these inefficiencies?] Hydrogen produced via natural gas reformation is even worse, because we all know where natural gas is coming from these days.