Not long ago, many believed hydrogen would be the most would viable alternative fuel to replace gasoline. Honda even brought out the FCX Clarity, a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) that is available for limited release in California. But that was 2008, and the FCX, along with other hydrogen-powered vehicles, never really took off. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first centers on cost. FCEVs are expensive to make, with price having come down some but not nearly enough. The second is a lack of infrastructure. There are very, very few filling stations. Unsurprisingly, there is a reluctance to invest in said infrastructure so long as the vehicles remain prohibitively expensive. And then there are the political reasons, which relate to the next setback that hydrogen vehicles have suffered.
Interest in hydrogen vehicles started to pick up about the time several automakers were abandoning interest in battery electric vehicles, and BEV proponents accused several companies of using hydrogen research as an excuse to avoid building the BEVs. There was no shortage of accusations of conspiracy with Big Oil either, and hydrogen became demonized. But now we have battery EVs for sale, quite a few models, even. Sales aren’t terrible, but they’re hardly changing the automotive industry much. So automakers are now turning back to hydrogen, and the US Department of Energy is giving them their backing.
Speaking at a recent Society of Automotive Engineers Government/Industry meeting, Sunita Satyapal, director of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program & Fuel Cell Technologies Office at the DOE, said “We all recognize both from the government side and the industry side that sustained commitment and investment is essential.” Her comments mark the first time in several years that the future of hydrogen was discussed at these meetings. As WardsAuto reports, there is still a bit of interest in FCEVs as a means for manufacturers to achieve more stringent CAFE standards. Smaller vehicles like forklifts are already at work in warehouses, many developed with help from DOE funding, and the hope is that this technology can be efficiently scaled up to consumer cars in the near future.