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The Hydrogen Car: Not Dead Yet?

By Stacy Feldman

May 12, 2009

Now that President Obama has wiped out federal research grants for fuel cell vehicles in his 2010 proposed budget in favor of batteries and biofuels, the hydrogen car appears to be on its deathbed.

Still, Honda, Toyota and even beleaguered GM all they will keep developing the technology. That's their rhetoric, anyway.

We made "a significant commitment to fuel cells and we’re going to pursue it," said Honda, Japan's second-largest carmaker. The company has the world's only serious hydrogen car, the FCX Clarity (pictured here). Just last month, it was named the World Green Car of 2009 by the New York Auto Show. The recognition was music to the hydrogen industry's ears.

But Obama's budget bombshell changes everything.

It means the hydrogen car business could not only lose vital research dollars but the immeasurable public relations value of U.S. government support. And automakers – even Honda – may be forced to kill their programs.

Specifically, the proposed U.S. budget would cut out more than $100 million for hydrogen cars, leaving only $68 million for more general fuel cell research. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, explained: 

"We asked ourselves, is it likely in the next 10 or 15, or even 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy? The answer, we felt, was no."

(Find his presentation on the energy portion of the budget .)

Hard to argue with logic. The vaunted "hydrogen highway" has so far been a road to nowhere. Here are some fundamental obstacles the industry hasn't been able to effectively overcome, despite billions in R&D spending:

  • producing the hydrogen to power the cars.
  • transporting hydrogen across a whole nation.
  • establishing an infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations.
  • reducing production costs of production to anywhere near affordable.


Honda has said the FCX Clarity costs a few hundred thousand dollars to produce – each. The company's hope was that mass production would shrink costs to $100,000. That's the goal? Not exactly marketable. 

Of course, electric cars, an Obama clean tech favorite, aren't cost competitive either. Next-gen lithium ion car batteries are still wildly expensive and too undeveloped. But battery technology has at least two giant legs up over hydrogen: It's relatively simple in its operation and the refueling infrastructure – an outlet – exists in every home. A breakthrough beckons.

The promise is there. 

Naturally, the U.S. Fuel Cell Council and National Hydrogen Association are up in arms over Obama's decision to throw in the hydrogen towel. From their joint press statement:

"Fuel-cell vehicles are not a science experiment. These are real vehicles with real marketability and real benefits. Hundreds of fuel-cell vehicles have collectively logged millions of miles."

They're not alone in their opposition. David Friedman, research director for the clean vehicle program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, that the government must place bets on all of the clean car contenders, hydrogen included.

"We keep jumping from silver bullet to silver bullet. It takes longer than that to revolutionize the auto industry."

Keith Johnson at Environmental Capital this sentiment: "Why is the government picking winners, anyway?"

Hydrogen is for the future

It's cool that their working on hydrogen cars which is probably the best solution but it's definately long term considering how much they cost currently. It's definately better than fossil fuel cars though and seems to, once the cost is brought down, be better than electric cars too!

The government probably is not picking hydrogen cars for now because of how long term of a solution it is...

I think they need to pursure

I think they need to pursure the hydrogen cells because they are really good for the environment only producing water. Im not sure how the trials of the technology are going in California, but on last inspection they were working wonders.
Obviously there is the cost of the actual fuel cell, but I would have thought this would be cheaper if more investment and research were to go in it.

Adminstration's Decision Doesn't make sense

Now why would you want to stop work on a car such as this that's being driven by real customers in real conditions, fueling at fueling stations today:

but these cars aren't

but these cars aren't practical for the average consumer. they are extremely expensive

Hydrogen Economy

It’s simply a lack of imagination. Here’s an H2 proposal that will work:

And the cons that killed Fed support? Well, many clean energy production systems are coming online. …all RE

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