Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Arrive
As reported by Ken Thomas of the Associated Press (AP), the Chevrolet Equinox has been delivered to people participating in a trial program that involves free loans of the innovative vehicles to a small group of consumers. In addition to General Motors, Honda and BMW are supplying hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars for initial trials in real-life driving conditions. The AP report is summarized here, with additional information provided (links to sources are given).
The Chevy Equinox carries up to 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of hydrogen gas in pressurized tanks. In the fuel cell, hydrogen reacts with oxygen to generate electricity and the byproduct, water. Although explosive under some conditions, hydrogen is considered safe in these cars because a leak in the system would simply cause the hydrogen to become diluted by air, reaching concentrations that aren’t flammable. Equinox driver Tom Albert has covered 2300 miles in two months, and is enthusiastic about the car, citing only the lack of filling stations and the 200 mile range as real limitations (there are only two filling stations in the Washington, D.C. area where he lives).
Reportedly, the performance of the Equinox is equivalent to approximately 43 miles per gallon with conventional gasoline. The cars themselves are considered to be zero emission vehicles, though the source of hydrogen affects the ultimate environmental impact of this technology. Currently, most hydrogen comes from fossil fuels in a process that does generate CO2. However, the goal is to generate hydrogen from renewable sources. One approach to sustainable hydrogen was recently described here and republished here with additional discussion. In addition, as reported by Thomas, extracting hydrogen from natural gas results in about half the CO2 production associated with equivalent gasoline use by a vehicle. This information comes from Patrick Serfass, director of technology for the National Hydrogen Association.
There is a Federal Government target of producing hydrogen at a cost equivalent to $1.50/gallon of gasoline by 2010; current costs are estimated to be $3.00/gallon.
The Chevy Equinox is joined by the Honda FCX Clarity, which is being leased for $600/month to about 200 people in California. There were 50,000 web-based requests for leases, but the program was limited in part by the location of filling stations. Of the 61 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., about half are in California. A press release from Air Products, a major supplier of hydrogen, provides more information about present and future health of hydrogen as fuel.
The FCX Clarity travels about 270 miles on one tank of hydrogen, and Jon Spallino is one happy driver:
You’re not sacrificing anything, and actually for me it’s an enhanced driving experience… I think that’s a misconception people have, that you’re puttering around in an underpowered cramped little soapbox
BMW’s Hydrogen 7 runs on gasoline or hydrogen, with separate tanks to take you about 130 miles on hydrogen and 300 miles on gas.
So far, the production of fuel cell cars requires custom manufacturing, so the real costs per car are very high and undisclosed, but things are certainly being driven in the right direction.
Original text Copyright © 2008, James K. Bashkin