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Automakers Still Targeting Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles for Long Term Sustainable Mobility

Despite the current enthusiasm for electric vehicles (EVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) will be an important component of the vehicle mix in 2050, according to panelists from Nissan, Toyota and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in a conference session at the SAE 2009 World Congress in Detroit.

Dr. Kev Adjemian, Senior Principal Engineer/Senior Manager - Fuel Cell Laboratory, Nissan; Justin Ward, Advanced Powertrain Program Manager, Toyota; Keith Wipke, Senior Engineer, NREL; and session moderator and organizer Jesse Schneider, Alternative Propulsion Consultant (who recently left Chrysler from the ENVI PHEV group) all agreed that the future would see a mix of the different types of vehicles out of necessity.

Tailpipe GHG emissions need to be reduced by 70% by 2050 to maintain a 550 ppm concentration according to Nissan’s calculations, Adjemian said. (Nissan bases its assessment on the AR3 analysis from the UN IPCCC.) Adjemian also noted that neither EVs or FCVs would be able to contribute to that required reduction unless the electricity or the hydrogen was sourced from renewables.

Adjemian said that Nissan’s powertrain roadmap in the short term is focused on the expansion of highly efficient internal combustion engines, with the mid- and long-term bringing expansion of its EV efforts and maintaining the competitive advantage of its core electric power trains. By 2050, Adjemian sees an approximately equal mix of ICE, HEV/PHEVs, and fuel cell vehicles.

Justin Ward said that Toyota sees market opportunity for small EVs, but that according to Toyota’s latest calculations, the fuel cell hybrid vehicle has the advantage in well-to-wheel efficiency even now.

With natural gas as the feedstock for hydrogen and power generation, Toyota currently calculates 40% WTW efficiency for a fuel cell vehicle; 33% for an EV; 34% for a hybrid (Prius); and 19% for an internal combustion engine.

We feel that there is a place for EVs in the future, but what is that place? It’s pretty challenging for a full-range larger vehicle. We do see a market for the smaller, shorter range EVs. The key is to make sure your grid is clean. We don’t talk much about it these days, but we are still working very, very strongly on fuel cell technology.

—Justin Ward

This view of the future vehicle technology mix—with EV applications likely targeting shorter-range, smaller vehicles and fuel cell vehicle technology applied to larger, long-range vehicles—was reinforced in a subsequent session moderated by GM (Larry Nitz, Executive Director, GM Powertrain) and including engineering executives from Ford (Sharif Marakby, Chief Engineer, Global Hybrid Core Engineering), Daimler (Neil Armstrong, Director, Hybrid Systems & Components), Honda (Kenji Nakano, Senior Chief Engineer, Honda R&D) and Bosch (Joseph Slenzak, Hybrid-EV Business Development), as well as Ward from Toyota.



It still seems to me that hydrogen brings many more problems and hurdles than solutions as a substitute for electricity and gasoline.

But, a bit like climate change and AGW, there are just too many experts from too many disparate disciplines to ignore or dismiss as misguided or biased.


1) The simplicity and efficiency of electric cars is very appealing.

2) Using a highly compressed gas instead of a battery to supply the motor with electricity is also appealing.

3) Supplying a significant number of cars with that gas made from renewable energy is where the whole idea goes down the toilet:


Your first link covers electricity to hydrogen - I agree that is a poor way to go.

I could not find hydrogen in the second link.

The article seems to be grasping the idea that small BEVs make sense but big vehicles are not suited to battery power - apparently leaving us with the need for the hydrogen “option” - though an expensive option it is.


"Toyota currently calculates ...
33% for an EV;
34% for a hybrid (Prius...."

The math might be accurate
but I wonder about the assumptions behind the math.

Then I wonder about the entire article.


Long-haul vehicles will likely need diesel, biofuel, or hydrogen for a long time.


I have been shaking my head for some time wondering why these auto companies are spending so much money trying to prove a process that for all practical reasons is a failure when applied to automobiles. The only thing I can think of is there must be federal money available and/or the fossil companies are involved in an attempt to continue to sell their products indirectly for the auto market.

For the other side of the story see the following:


The Toyota figures must assume a very heavy battery to be so inefficient.

Stating such figures without context is completely meaningless.


Maybe if the car makers would work with the builders and develop fuel cell for buildings and cars. A Combined Heat and Power fuel cell would generate power and heat for buildings and homes to bring costs and prices down. That would make them more powerful and affordable for cars and could provide longevity data to substantiate reliability.


"vehicle mix in 2050"
LOL! Aren't we supposed to have flying cars by 2050.


Ok a few bits..

1 SJC.. They dont need to do that as the fuel cell companies already are doing that. A TON of applications for fuel cells already exist and are spuring limited mass production of the first commercial products.

2 Lad. A fuel cell car will only need 3-4 kg of h2 and that h2 will be going against a fillup of gasoline costing 80 bucks. Nuff said. Oh and no it doesnt cost that much energy to compress h2 and no its not that hard to transport it and no the h2 fuel tanks dont cost that much anymore... oh and basicaly that link is a festering pile of wrong.

The only way that link could be more wrong is if it had the hamster dance music while the star wars kid attacked moly boyle as 10000 kittens got run over by a demented cheney in a solid gold h2 hummer all while bush dressed as rimmer from red dwarf chased a giant robotic richard simmons monster named global warmup dressed in pink see through spandex...


Suppose they can make a small on-site reformer to convert CH4 to H2 + C or CH4 + H2O to H2 + CO2
That exists already, but not small enough to fit in a car
Suppose they can make a cheap, efficient fuel cell.
suppose they can make both out of cheap abundant materials (carbon, iron, ...)
Then you can drive on (renewable) methane in a highly efficient way.
There are already driving millions of cars on methane (but for the moment in an inefficient ICE) for decades, that's old, cheap, safe, proven technology.
Conversion of biomass (or any other organic waste) to CH4 is very simple and clean, and can easily be 'upgraded' with CO2 capturing.
I think only a few breakthrough are needed to make that happen. Moreover, these fuelcells would be the perfect range-extender for a BEV, since the reformer and the fuelcell could probably be made very small and light.

It is certainly worthwhile to keep investing in it


The NECAR series had a methanol to H2 reformer on the car, so I do not see why you could not have a methane to H2 reformer on the car. It would cost more, but compared to the fuel cell, not much more.

I agree that biomass methane would be the way to go for many reasons. It is just the low price of fossil methane that keeps it from happening...IMO. The latest quote is 35 cents per therm wholesale. It might need to stay above $1 to make it profitable.


Electric cars powered by lithium ion batteries is definitely not the way to go. Indeed there isn't enough of the material around to power all of the world's cars. We will find ourselves in the same state as we are in at present with limited oil supplies.

Eighty percent of the planet's lithium is in Bolivia. The Bolivian government has come out and stated in no uncertain terms that the material will not be mined and shipped overseas. They are demanding that the batteries along with the vehicles be produced in Bolivia.

National Public Television had a piece on this topic just last week.


Lithium-estimated known reserves (in tons):
Bolivia, 5.4 million
Chile, 3 million
USA (Nevada), .41 million
Total global estimate is 35 million tons, including the above numbers.

If these figures are true, Bolivia is throwing away a good economy builder by a bad nationalistic policy.


There are several reasons for a car maker to work on H and FC vehicles even while doubting it is worthwhile.

Not all reasons would apply to every car maker.

First. You might be wrong. H and FC may conquer all. There is no magical way to always be right.

Second. You don't want to offend activists. You don't know which can hurt you in the future. Perhaps in the very near future.

Third. You can build alliances. This shares costs and gains political allies. And the PR will be good.

Fourth. The costs aren't very high when examined in detail. You may make a profit from tax credits and various incentives. Some interesting accounting may occur.

Fifth. Great way to test and rank promising employees. See how well they do out on the bleeding edge.


WTW fuel cell efficiency 40% and EV 34%? What a mess. How it is possible to calculate that. My best estimate fuel cell efficiency in case el. hydrogen generation 15%. In case catalytic prooces which is not existing yet hydrogen WTW will never be higher than 30%.


Natural gas to SOFC on the car might get 40% WTW efficiency. We do not have that now, but nothing says that we won't some time in the future.


Its simple. First off a modern nat gas powerplant isnt all that eff.

Secondly its cheaper to compress h2 to 5k psi then it is to transmit electricity to your home.

Finaly you lose about 11% just trying to charge a battery and a few more discharging it.

With a fuel cell you just have the conversion to h2 thats 80% eff and the compression that eats 3% and finaly the fuel cell itself is likely more then 50% eff so tada!


If natural gas to hydrogen reforming is 80% efficient (optimistic) and the proton exchange membrane fuel cell is 50% efficient (optimistic) then you have 80% x 50% for 40% efficiency.

Natural gas to SOFC at 60% efficient (nominal) is 1 x 60% for 60% efficiency. You have to compress natural gas to 3000 psi and hydrogen to 10,000 psi for about the same range +/-. It takes less energy to compress natural gas to 3000 psi than hydrogen to 10,000 psi.

I would rather go with natural gas at 3000 psi to an SOFC on vehicle. If I put a gas turbine on the SOFC output and burn the remaining hydrogen I can reach 70% efficiency. Hard to beat that.


A sofc isnt 60% eff its only around 40% it does however also generate usable heat which is why its used in many combined heat power apps.

As for h2... it doesnt need to be compressed to 10k psi anymore a 5kpsi tank can hold more then 4 kg these days and they plan to increase that greatly before too long.

As for the pem fuel cell eff... they currently run a bit over 50% and are planned to be 75 ish by 2015 or so and 80 or more before fuel cell cars realy go anywhere too big.


Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) vs.
Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC)

"PEM fuel cells also reach efficiencies of about 40%-50%"

Solid oxide fuel cells

"Power generation efficiencies for solid oxide fuel cells can range up to about 60 percent..."


Looks like my info on sofc was out of date but I find it odd that they say pem is only 40-50 I know many are that low or even lower but isnt the honda one well over 50?


I am no expert on this, I only know what I read. They are making improvements to PEMs everyday, so I would not be surprised if Honda has made some real valuable design advances.

PEMs are still the most likely candidate for homes and cars. I just like SOFCs because they do not use platinum and can take many kinds of fuels. It is estimated that they are still 10 years away from automotive use however.


Would a PHEV-20 or PHEV-40 make economical sense with a small (15 +/- Kwh) fuel cell as a genset.

Drivers would push the (long drive) button to start the fuel cell (early) operation, whenever the planned trip is over the on-board e-storage unit capability.

Could certainly make a very quiet vehicle.


I like the PHEV-20, it uses less batteries. It depends on state of charge. If you have 6 kwh of batteries and they get down to 2kwh before the engine comes on that would work, but the engine might have to produce 30kw to run the car and charge the batteries at the same time. It might be 20 minutes off and 20 minutes on around town and highway average.

With a fuel cell, it is charging continuously and the batteries are making up for surge. As long as your average did not exceed the fuel cell output, it would work. So, it would seem to work just fine to have a 15-20kw fuel cell and maybe 5kwh of batteries. Yes, it would be a quiet ride with less batteries and smaller fuel cell. The one problem is climbing a 10% grade for an hour or running 100 mph for an hour, you might exceed your reserves.

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