South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co. is "very, very bullish" on fuel cell vehicles, Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik said at the 5th International Environmentally Friendly Vehicle Conference earlier this month, where the company featured its Tucson ix FCEV. Hyundai plans to make as many as 10,000 FCEVs by 2015.
General Motors Co. hasn't made any announcements but is looking to release a fuel cell option in the 2017 time frame, said Daniel Frakes, manager of vehicle, fuels and advanced technology policy for GM.
Ford Motor Co. has been working on FCEVs for 20 years and continues to research fuel cell stack technology in partnership with Daimler AG. But the company will add a fuel cell powertrain to its lineup only "when we can provide cost-competitive, high-value performance to our customers while, at the same time, making business sense to Ford," said Scott Staley, chief engineer of electrification research.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance is also building a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in a strategic partnership with Daimler AG. Last year, Nissan announced it had joined with 12 other companies to launch FCEVs and develop hydrogen infrastructure in Japan. The company expects to offer an FCEV on the market in the next five years for around $50,000 to $60,000, according to Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy at Nissan North America.
"But if you think EV [electric vehicle] infrastructure is tough, just wait for hydrogen," Perry said.
Where are the filling stations?
The United States will need a lot more fueling stations for both EVs and FCEVs before either option can be considered convenient. But at least the electric grid runs throughout the country. Hydrogen, by comparison, is much harder to find.
The California Air Resources Board plans to launch a network of 68 hydrogen stations by the end of 2015 to serve the burgeoning FCEV market. The state currently has nine public access stations, 14 private stations and another 14 that have been funded or are being developed, according to DOE's 2011 Fuel Cell Technologies Market Report.
According to Dunwoody, it will cost about $65 million to reach the 68-station mark. The difficulty is getting energy companies to pony up for the stations before the cars hit the roads.
The next challenge is getting hydrogen to the stations.
One option is to truck it in from centralized production facilities located primarily along the Gulf Coast, where hydrogen is used at oil refineries to desulfurize fuels. But the best and cheapest route to fueling the growing number of FCEVs may be to piggyback on the existing natural gas pipeline system that already crisscrosses the country, supplying about a quarter of U.S. energy.
Hydrogen can be made with no upstream emissions using renewable energy to separate hydrogen from a water molecule in a process called electrolysis. But most hydrogen today is made from natural gas, which brings the cost of hydrogen down closer to that of gasoline but makes the FCEV about 50 percent less carbon-intensive than a gasoline vehicle.
The U.S. shale boom has created what industry experts expect to be long-term, low and stable prices for natural gas. This transformation has put new life into the development of both dedicated natural gas vehicles and fuel cell cars.
"Prior to this, it was thought that we had to build stand-alone stations," said Edward Kiczek, global business director of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a major hydrogen producer. "I think there's a realization of the need to take advantage of all existing infrastructure out there today to transition to a new fuel."
Compressed natural gas (CNG) passenger vehicles were granted incentives in EPA's greenhouse gas rule for model years 2017-2025 on the basis that they would help pave the way for the commercialization of FCEVs.