Fuel cell power is coming, but when?

At the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) on January 9, the General Motors Corporation (GM) unveiled its latest fuel cell-powered concept car, the Sequel, an impressive, futuristic vehicle that runs on hydrogen produced from natural gas. The car manufacturing giant noted that this model showed much better results than previous efforts. The Sequel can cover up to 480 kilometers on one load of hydrogen, while it can go from 0-100 km/hour in under 10 seconds, in contrast to the previous generation of cars by the same company which reached the same speeds in 12-16 seconds and could travel on one hydrogen load for 270-400 kilometers. Several other companies have also displayed vehicles of this type at international auto shows, but while they might look good in the showcase, fuel cell-powered concept cars are still a long way from hitting the streets. General Motors itself has said that it does not see the Sequel or any newer model being available to the public before the end of the decade. Despite the significant progress that has been made on fuel cell-powered cars, they are still plagued by problems. The foremost of these is production costs. General Motors’ Sequel for example, is said to cost 10 times as much to produce as a similar conventional vehicle. Nevertheless, many analysts say that this estimate is modest compared to actual production costs. On the the other hand, there are those who argue that once these cars go into mass production, the cost will inevitable fall quite significantly. The whole issue of cost and ways of reducing it is right now the subject of huge worldwide research by scientists and business interests, where thousands of scientists are searching for the right materials to increase the assets of the fuel cell while at the same time reducing production costs. The other big problem with fuel cell-powered cars is the matter of natural gas depots; the number of «hydrogen stations» in America can be counted on the fingers of one hand. A recent study concluded that in order to cover the needs of 1 million fuel cell-powered cars in the 100 largest cities of the USA by 70 percent of the local population, they would need 12,000 hydrogen stations. The cost of building new or remodeling old gas stations is estimated at $12 billion. Nevertheless, as forbidding as $12 billion sounds, it is significantly less than than the $200 billion that America’s gas and coal infrastructure is estimated to need until 2025.

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