Two new government-funded studies project that fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be an integral part of the U.S. effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum consumption by 80 percent by 2050.
The National Resource Council's Transition to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels identifies FCEVs as one of four "pathways" toward greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum usage reductions, highlighting in particular the urgent need for immediate investment in hydrogen production and refueling infrastructure. In predictive computer models of future consumer behavior, FCEVs frequently achieved a higher projected 2050 market share than battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hybrids.
The Department of Energy's Transportation Energy Futures, a series of nine reports outlining long-term transportation energy strategies, envisions a future in which all liquid fuel needs are met by biofuels. For that to happen, it says, petroleum demand must be reduced by widespread adoption of FCEVs and BEVs.
Both reports call for strong support, through policy and subsidies, for hydrogen and fuel cell R&D and production over the next three decades.
Several recent announcements demonstrated that the study's projections are not unfounded, as automobile manufacturers reaffirmed commitments to fuel cell technology:
- Hyundai became the first automaker in the world to mass-produce an FCEV when it began assembly line production of its hydrogen-powered ix35 FCEV last month. The company plans to build 1,000 of the fuel cell SUVs by 2015 and looks to lease them primarily in Europe.
- Daimler AG, Ford and Nissan announced that they will be working together to develop a common FCEV system, with the goal of producing a combined 100,000 FCEVs for the commercial market as early as 2017. The endorsement of fuel cell technology is a major turnaround for Ford, which had suspended its FCEV demonstration program in 2008.
- BMW and Toyota signed a binding agreement for a long-term collaboration to develop a complete fuel cell system, including a fuel cell stack and system with a hydrogen tank, motor, and battery, to be completed by 2020. A press release on Toyota's website says the companies "are convinced that fuel cell technology is one of the solutions necessary to achieve zero emissions." In August, Toyota said it still plans to bring a fuel cell vehicle to market by 2015.
- Over 1.5 million hydrogen-powered vehicles could be on the roads in the UK by 2030, according to a study produced by the UKH2Mobility project. For that number to be realized, the study says, investment in hydrogen infrastructure must grow in line with vehicle sales, reaching 1,150 refueling sites by 2030.
- President Obama has proposed a new Energy Security Trust, a 10-year, $2 billion program designed to invest in breakthrough research for a range of cost-effective technologies, including FCEVs.
Two other announcements indicated that hydrogen infrastructure is developing on both sides of the Pacific:
- The California Energy Commission took a step toward closing the infrastructure gap, announcing that it will award up to $28.59 million to fund construction of hydrogen fueling stations in 25 areas across the state. Several automakers are still aiming at commercial launch in 2015.
- The Nikkei reports JX Nippon Oil & Energy will open two hydrogen refueling stations at existing gas stations in Japan. The company plans to have 40 refueling stations by 2015, part of an effort by 13 Japanese automakers and energy companies to build 100 refueling stations by that date.
It was front-page news less than a decade ago, and the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento was ground zero for what was touted as a forward-looking effort to green the Golden State.
Gov. Jerry Brown has approved a plan to construct 100 hydrogen fueling stations across the state by 2024.