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Archive for 2009

We want to wish everyone very happy holidays and hope you all have a wonderful new year.

See you in 2010!
– Jen & Brynne, Fuel Cell Insiders

The National Research Council has released a new report, Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles, that concludes that the costs of plug-in hybrid electric cars are high and unlikely to decrease drastically in the near future.  Subsidies in the tens to hundreds of billions of dollars will be needed if plug-ins are to achieve rapid penetration of the U.S. automotive market. Even with these investments, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are not expected to significantly impact oil consumption or carbon emissions before 2030.

The report also found that in addition to cheaper batteries, access to electric outlets in parking spaces is needed as well as advanced smart meters and electrical system upgrades for home recharging.   The National Resource Council recommends that the U.S. needs to adopt a “portfolio approach” to curbing oil use.   “This should include increasing the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles and pursuing research, development, and demonstration into alternative strategies, including the use of bio-fuels, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.”   We agree. What do you think?

There is also a new web page that incorporates most of the computer simulation work behind the NHA’s “Energy Evolution” paper.  The site is intended to provide technical details of the various alternative vehicles (hybrids, plug-ins, biofuels, battery EVs and fuel cell EVs), including quick links to the latest papers and reports in this field.

Curt Suplee’s article on hydrogen in the Washington Post, “Don’t Bet on a Hydrogen Car Anytime Soon”, is still circulating in Washington and deserves a response.  Suplee prides himself on colorful writing, but I’m afraid this time he has let his appetite for shocking adjectives overwhelm his judgment.  Everyone’s entitled to an opinion.  But the dialogue over the motor vehicle of the future was clouded enough without this contribution.

Suplee rightly notes that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles offer a more secure and planet- friendly transportation future.   Hydrogen is such a good energy carrier that it is added to gasoline today in ever increasing quantities to improve performance and lower emissions.  Hydrogen can be extracted from fossil fuels, biofuels and even water.  This flexibility is a strength, not a weakness.  It allows motor fuel to be produced from a variety of locally available sources, just as our electric grid includes coal, natural gas, renewable and nuclear power. 

This is not a Bush Administration plot.  The ramping up of federal interest in fuel cell vehicles began with the Clinton Administration.  It has produced exceptional results, rivaling the best of DOE’s research programs.  And best of all from the taxpayers’ perspective, government funding is a small fraction – no more than 20% — of what the auto industry itself has invested.  And the total invested in hydrogen over the past 20 years is less than we are spending on batteries this year alone. 

There is a robust and ubiquitous hydrogen production and distribution network in the US and worldwide, and the industry has compiled an exemplary safety record over the past 50 years.  Like all fuels hydrogen needs to be treated with respect, but you can make a case that, if anything, hydrogen is safer than gasoline today, and because it is used so much more efficiently there is much less fuel on board a hydrogen vehicle. 

It is true that nearly all the hydrogen produced commercially today is extracted from natural gas, but once again that is good news not bad news.  US supplies of natural gas are abundant and increasing.  Natural gas will always be cheaper than oil on an energy equivalent basis.  It is a clean fuel, used for decades in the US to displace dirtier fuels such as coal or oil for power generation.  It is an even better fuel when converted to hydrogen for use in a fuel cell, for two reasons. 

The process of extracting hydrogen begins with a 50-50 mix of natural gas and water – a low carbon mix.  But the real benefit comes when the fuel is used in a fuel cell.  The fuel cell relies on chemistry and not combustion, and is inherently efficient.  Today’s best fuel cell vehicles get 60 miles per gallon equivalent or better, and these are full-size vehicles that have all the room and creature comforts that consumers demand. 

Sure, it takes energy to make hydrogen.  But it takes energy to make any fuel.  The bottom line – from independent tests — is that fuel cell vehicles are nearly three times more efficient and nearly two-thirds cleaner than today’s gasoline cars, and cleaner and more efficient than today’s hybrids.

This efficiency translates to savings for the consumer.  The consumer price of hydrogen at the pump today competes with gasoline on per-mile basis in some locations and the price will fall rapidly as demand increases. 

Natural gas is a fossil fuel.  But every energy pathway open to cars today relies exclusively or largely on fossil fuel. In the Midwest for example an electric vehicle will “run” mostly on coal.  It is also true that hydrogen will need to be delivered to the consumer.  But hydrogen gives us options we don’t have with gasoline.  We can move hydrogen by truck, or by pipeline, or produce it close to the point of use, depending on local economics.

Electricity shares many of the benefits of hydrogen; fuel cell vehicles are electric vehicles, after all.  And there is room for both pathways in our motor vehicle future.  There is also a role for biofuels, and the biofuels-to-hydrogen pathway is an exciting renewable option already opening up.  But it is a disservice to imply that the battery electrical vehicle pathway will be easy or cheap.  A coalition of electric utilities this week asked for $120 Billion from the federal government over eight years to facilitate the commercialization of EV’s.  For less than half that amount we could establish a profitable nationwide network of hydrogen stations and deploy millions of full-function, marketable fuel cell vehicles, according to the National Academies of Science.

A hydrogen fuel cell future is no more difficult than any other transportation future.  It is a realistic, cost competitive option that offers tremendous flexibility and tremendous value.  It is no tailpipe dream; in fact there is no tailpipe at all.

 

- Bob Rose

Following their big announcement in October about signing a joint “Letter of Understanding” with fellow automakers to push forward the development of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) and the hydrogen infrastructure, Hyundai-Kia has come forth with even more detail about their fuel cell vehicle program.

At the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee earlier this week in Arlington, Virginia, Todd Suckow from Hyundai-Kia gave a presentation revealing some of the tremendous progress the company has made with regards to FCVs.   They have been actively introducing FCVs for several years now, starting with the Tuscon and Tucson FCVII and evolving to the Sportage FCVII and the Borrego FCV, Hyundai-Kia has had more than 30 cars participating in a U.S. Department of Energy Fleet Program and the same number in a similar program in Korea.   The Korean program also includes the demonstration of four fuel cell buses.  The Borrego FCV recently participated in a public road test starting at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California and drove 396 miles to Los Angeles on a single tank of hydrogen with about 75 miles still to spare.  The car has an estimated range of around 471 miles and the average fuel efficiency for the run was 60.47 mpkg.

The 4th generation of the Hyundai-Kia FCV is set to start small scale production in 2012. We can’t wait.

Our CapWiz site (Remember, the one you used to send your Congressmen a letter? Encouraging them to include funding for fuel cells and hydrogen in the DOE’s budget? Thanks again, by the way) has been updated! Check it out.

We’d like to ask for your help again.  Please send a letter to your representative asking them to cosponsor and support H.R. 3660, the Fuel Cell Tax Parity Act of 2009, a bipartisan bill, introduced by Congressman David Wu (D-WA) and Congresswoman Bono-Mack (R-CA) to put fuel cells on equal footing for tax credits for residential installations.

Currently, our tax code treats residential and commercial fuel cell projects differently by giving a substantially larger production tax credit to commercial uses.  However, other renewable energy sources, including solar, geothermal, and wind projects, are treated the same regardless of whether they are for commercial or residential use.  Congressman Wu’s bill rectifies this disparity by making residential fuel cell installations eligible for the same tax credits as commercial fuel cells.

“As we try to ensure that America has clean and renewable sources of energy, we need to establish policies to help individuals install these technologies and support industries that are already ahead of the curve,” said Congressman Wu.  “This bill will ensure that families have the opportunity to access the same tax credits that commercial developers get for using renewable power.”

Pass it around to coworkers, colleagues and friends, we need their letters too. Thanks Insiders. Again, its www.capwiz.com/fuelcells/home.

The hydrogen car is back. On Thursday, the Senate agreed to restore nearly all the money for hydrogen car research that the administration had proposed to cut. The measure, part of an appropriations bill previously approved by the House, is expected to be signed by President Obama.

“It’s the right set of priorities,” said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), a leader in the effort to fund the technology. “If you discontinue the research, you shortchange the future.”

From the Washington Post.

I hate to break up our Autoweek streak, but this is too timely.  Don’t worry, we’ll have another post this afternoon. But first, an update from the US Fuel Cell Council.  Thanks to FuelCellToday for posting this as well.

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Yesterday the energy and water bill negotiated by the US House and Senate conferees was cleared by the Senate by a vote of 80-17.  The bill, passed by the House two weeks ago, funds the Department of Energy’s fuel cell and hydrogen programs.  The spending measure that funds the department for Fiscal Year 2010 is expected to be signed by the President shortly.

The bill approved by Congress is a significant win for fuel cells overall. The Obama administration requested $68 million for the EERE program. Under the final Congressional compromise, funding for fuel cells and hydrogen will receive $174 million, or $106 million higher than the Obama administration’s request.

Funding for Fossil Energy’s (FE) SECA program was decreased, unfortunately, from the House and Senate recommendations to $50 million for FY 2010.  Congress provided $10 million to for coal to hydrogen work, an increase from the request of $6 million; nuclear hydrogen funds were not funded.  This was consistent with the administration request.

Legislative language directs the Department to use the EERE funds to: “further program goals with new contracts and continue funding 190 contracts the Department placed at risk in fiscal year 2010 by requesting zero funding for this program. Additionally, fuel cell technology can continue to be pursued under the Hydrogen Technologies Program in fiscal year 2010 as it has been in the past.”

A number of earmarks were added, and some additional research will be funded via the Office of Science.

The USFCC led the grassroots and coalition-building effort to restore the funds, working collaboratively with a wide range of organizations and individuals.  This ambitious legislative effort has paid off handsomely overall.  But a great deal of work remains if the Obama Administration is to embrace fuel cells as part of their national energy strategy.  We have already begun that work.

Since we were talking about positive articles yesterday, I wanted to make sure you all saw the great piece posted Jim Motavalli. No? Go read it. Our next Autoweek post will wait for you…

The 41st Tokyo Motor Show opens next Sunday, and its looking like there will be a big showing of electric and fuel cell vehicles. For those lucky enough to attend, they will get a first look at many of the hottest vehicles using the bridge technologies we have been talking about this week.

I wish I could go, if only to see the fuel cell vehicles Suzuki will be displaying. Just as auto makers are investing in different types of technologies, they are also investing in different vehicle types to house these technologies. Suzuki will be showing three vastly different fuel cell vehicles: a subcompact with a GM fuel cell stack, a “personal mobility vehicle” which is basically a space-age wheel chair, and a Bergman scooter with a compact Intelligent Energy fuel cell power system.

All three vehicles show how fuel cells can be adapted for different types of mobility needs. Many people still think of fuel cells as refrigerator sized power units, but that is no longer the case. As mentioned yesterday, the price of fuel cell stacks is coming down, and the size is clearly no longer an issue. With the Los Angeles motor show opening in December, and others kicking off across America, hopefully some of us will get a chance to see these great new vehicles. Let us know if you do and what you think!

The public press seems to be revisiting hydrogen in a positive light.  We’ve seen several articles willing to take another look at hydrogen fuel cell cars, the best example of which was on CNN.com today.  So why are automakers continuing to invest? Why are reporters and the public still interested in this technology? We think it’s obvious, but here are a few solid reasons.

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For one, the Congress has reconfirmed their support.  Thanks in part to all of your supportive letters, the Senate and the House restored the DOE FY 2010 budget for hydrogen.  That commitment to hydrogen shows the industry and the public that there is interest and demand for these technologies.  Therefore, manufacturers continue to develop and invest.

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Secondly, as shown in DOE’s most recent vehicle stack cost estimate,  costs continue to significantly decrease. DOE estimates that in volume production, 2009 technology would yield a fuel cell vehicle engine at $61/Kw, within sight of the DOE 2015 cost target.  An affordable fuel cell vehicle can be built at these prices, though the auto industry now sees the path to lower precious metal loadings and other improvements sufficient to achieve the 2015 cost target of $30.

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Third, automakers see that the benefits of fuel cell technology are greater than bridge technologies, and there are fewer and fewer hurdles toward commercialization.  For example:

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“Although batteries are evolving, I don’t think they can catch up with fuel cells,” says Honda CEO Takanobu Ito.

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Toyota Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada stated at a Frankfurt Auto Show press conference, “Electric vehicles of today are less costly than in 1990s, but if you compare them with the other vehicles out there they are still too expensive.  Unless there is a very big breakthrough in battery costs I don’t think electric vehicles can take a large market share.”

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And last but certainly not least, people like them.  Fuel cell cars are easy and fun to drive.  We’ve told you all about our experiences, and those of some of GM’s Project Driveway participants.  In the aforementioned CNN article, actress Jaime Lee Curtis gushes about the Honda Clarity she leases for $600 a month.  “I am not the most light-footed driver, and this thing is like a rocket ship,” says Curtis, who leases the car for $600 a month. When asked what she will do when her three-year lease expires, Curtis pauses a moment. “Cry,” she says. “Sob uncontrollably, and beg them to extend the lease.”

Welcome to Autoweek on the Fuel Cell Insider! All this week, we’ll be bringing you quotes from the auto folks in support of our industry. Questions? Want to know more? Let us know what else we can track down for you.

Today, we’ll start things off with a few visions.  Every automaker has at some point released a statement or quote with their idea of when their vehicles will be commercialized.  Whether they see that date as nearer or farther than their counterparts, almost all have expressed that, fuel cell vehicles are the ultimate goal.

For example, in September, eight different automakers joined together to sign a Letter of Understanding, stating their vision of increased numbers of fuel cell vehicles around 2015.  Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation/Opel, Honda Motor Co., Ltd., Hyundai Motor Company, Kia Motors Corporation, Renault SA/Nissan Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Corporation all signed.

  • The signing manufacturers strongly anticipate that a significant number of fuel cell vehicles will be commercialized from 2015 onwards. This number is aimed at a few hundred thousand units over life cycle on a worldwide basis. As every vehicle manufacturer will implement its own specific production and commercial strategies as well as timelines, commercialization of electric vehicles with fuel cells may occur earlier than in the above-mentioned expected year.
  • The signing manufacturers strongly support the idea of building-up a hydrogen infrastructure in Europe, with Germany as regional starting point and at the same time developing similar concepts for the market penetration of hydrogen infrastructure in other regions of the world, including the USA, Japan and Korea as further starting points.
But Nissan’s product planner, Mark Perry, summed it up best when he told HybridCars.com “Zero emission vehicles are clearly our focus and we believe it’s the future state of transportation. Some segments of the market in the near term may best be served by high efficiency internal combustion engines, diesels, hybrids or extended range electric vehicles [also known as plug-in hybrids].” He added that these technologies are “all bridge technologies to the time when battery electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles can cover every market segment.”

In essence, the automakers have confirmed that fuel cell vehicles are the ultimate goal.  Come back tomorrow when we’ll talk about those “bridge technologies” and how the automakers feel about them in more detail.

But until then, how do you feel about the dates and projections that get tossed around? Does this help or hurt the industry?