the coal of the future.
Some years ago, there was a great deal of talk about fuel cells as the successor to the combustion engine. Then things grew quiet. Now fuel cells are enjoying a comeback, and they’re well on the way to a breakthrough.
But if hydrogen is such a good energy carrier, and fuel cells enable CO2-free driving, and test vehicles make such a good impression on test drivers, why are there scarcely any hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road? Among the key reasons are many unanswered questions regarding the hydrogen infrastructure and about generating hydrogen with renewable energy sources. There are signs, however, that fuel cells will reach the mass market in coming years and expand the drive technology mix for cars. One important factor is that after years of divergent technologies, the industry has now agreed on many standards: these call for gaseous hydrogen rather than the liquid form, compression of the hydrogen gas in the tanks to 700 bar, and uniform filler necks. The result, explains Lieber, is that “drivers of hydrogen-powered vehicles can use all filling stations worldwide.” Promising things are afoot with regard to infrastructure as well. In Japan, the hydrogen filling station network is growing fast thanks to public subsidies, likewise in California; in Europe, the same is set to occur soon in certain countries. In Germany, a consortium of numerous companies from the automotive and oil industries known as H2 Mobility has agreed on a plan of action which aims to have some 400 hydrogen filling stations in operation throughout the country by 2023. In the context of a range of several hundred kilometres, that could be enough to convince drivers of the day-to-day usability of hydrogen-powered vehicles. As Lieber comments: “The successful expansion of the infrastructure is primarily a question of the political arena creating a reliable framework and providing the means to make it a reality.” The prices for fuel cell-powered cars will also drop in the years to come – as was observed in the past with both electric cars and plug-in hybrids as well.