Hollywood Pushes for Fuel Cell Cars

Perhaps the only time you’ve heard about fuel cell vehicles is when Hollywood stars roll up to the red carpet. A star with a green streak is more than happy to lend his or her name to the cause of emission-free motoring, and car companies will do what’s necessary to promote their forward-thinking advanced technologies.

Jamie Lee Curtis with Honda FCX Clarity
Brad Pitt with BMW Hydrogen 7

Top: Jamie Lee Curtis with Honda FCX Clarity.
Bottom: Brad Pitt with BMW Hydrogen 7.

Separating Hydrogen Truth and Fiction

Hydrogen Challenges

What is going to take to put more hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road?

But there’s evidence that hydrogen fuel cell cars—largely dismissed as fantasy in recent years—might one day become more than just the stuff of science fiction movies. Ironically, Tinsel Town and Greater Los Angeles—a town where fiction and gritty realities collide—is becoming the location for real fuel cell cars, although still on a limited basis. Los Angeles enjoys the support of state and local government agencies and a budding infrastructure for refueling—including 20 hydrogen stations and another seven in the planning stages. The lack of a refueling network is perhaps the biggest obstacle to the deployment of hydrogen-powered cars.

And then there was the large showing of fuel cell cars at the recent Los Angeles Auto Show—demonstrating that fuel cell technology remains an important area of research and development focus for automakers, along with the hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and full electric vehicles that are likely to appear on the market sooner.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars are essentially electric vehicles—producing their electricity onboard instead of having it supplied from the grid. Compressed hydrogen passes through a fuel cell membrane that produces electricity to power the car.

Fuel Cell Highlights from the Los Angeles Show

Kia Borrego FCEV

Kia unveiled its second-generation fuel cell vehicle, the Borrego FCEV at its press conference. This vehicle has a power stack that is almost 50 percent more powerful than the previous generation and uses a supercapacitor for energy storage, but also delivers an impressive 54 miles to the gallon.

Nissan X-Trail FCV

Nissan had its fuel cell vehicle, the X-Trail FCV, in the ride-and-drive. The new fuel cell stack in the Nissan doubles the power density of the previous generation stack and also achieves a 35 percent cost reduction mainly due to using half the platinum of earlier versions.

Chevy Equinox FCV

General Motors also had its Chevy Equinox FCV in the ride-and-drive program, one of 100 being used in its Project Driveway program that has thousands of regular citizens as well as key influencers evaluating daily life with a fuel cell vehicle.

Fuel cell vehicles certainly face challenges before becoming a mainstream product, but many in the industry and government still see them as the “holy grail,” capable of delivering all of the convenience and performance of an internal combustion engine without the pollution and greenhouse gases, or dependence on fossil fuel.

  • Charles Young

    Using hydrogen is only part of the issue. Hydrogen is only a medium. The energy has to come from something. Grid electricity or reforming still uses fossil fuels. For any substantial environmental benefit, hydrogen cars or not, the grid MUST be changed to non-carbon energy sources: wind, solar, nuclear.

  • John K.

    Why even waste ever-limited time, money, and manpower/effort on fuel cells/hydrogen? Not only does it still have MAJOR hurdles to overcome (making it affordable, H delivery infrastructure, etc.), but it diverts T/$/M from PHEVs and, ultimately, pure EVs.

    As of 1 Dec., EEStor is reported to still be on track for delivering a production version of their EESU to ZENN this month (see the 1 Dec blog at: http://www.theeestory.com/blog). That’s less than 22 days away!

    Even w/o EEStor — which can take us straight to EVs — PHEVs will be offered w/in a couple of years. As various battery/ultracap technologies improve and ramp up prdxn (so that prices fall), PHEVs will go farther and farther on pure electricity and we’ll be weaned off of crude until we’ve got pure EVs.


  • M Sheridan

    You need to have someone explain this to you better. The Hydrogen *is* the fuel… The Fuel Cell creates the electricity when the Hydrogen passes through it to bond with Oxygen. The attraction of Hydrogen to Oxygen is unbelievably strong (strong enough to move a 2 ton vehicle down the road with more speed than an ICE does the job).

  • ACAGal

    M. Sheridan is correct. The Extended Range Electric Vehicle named KARMA and currently beginning production (a production model will be at the Detroit Auto Show), has a fuel tank/deliver system to charge to battery after the 50 miles of battery power have been exhausted. The designer of the body/interior of the car is Fisker, but the engineering is from Quantum Technologies Int. (Irvine CA). The current tank/lines to operate the generating engine are gas, but that system can be adapted to bio-fuels or hydrogen as these fuels become more available. Quantum is also producing solar cells for rooftop energy recharging systems for the battery, as well as filmthin-cell, curved car roof top solar charging systems to cool electric batteries. Oner reference for your research would be-The WSJ Magazine, winter 2008 pages 92-95

  • Louis Ventre, Jr.

    Pressurizing hydrogen gas in nano-scale water bubbles is projected to create a quasi-liquid with approximately energy content of gasoline, a feat heretofore considered impossible. Such a quasi-liquid would be ideal for fuel cells and even internal combustion engines. The trick is in the technology and process for forming the bubbles at nanoscale. All that is lacking is an investor willing to take an investment risk to prove the concept. Once proved, a viable substitute for gasoline would be available. See a description of the patent application at http://www.hceco.com .

  • Jon

    Hydrogen is tomorrows ethanol.

    Using a powerplant to create hydrogen, which then needs to be stored, shipped and delivered, will never equal using a powerplant to deliver electricity… just like using petrochemicals to fertilize corn to make ehthanol is never going to match the efficency of electricity production.

    The only reason for hydrogen prototypes is because of fat government grants.

  • Willyboy420

    I think these cars are a good idea….. It would also kinda cut down the tension about ll the oil and fighting over oil.

  • Collin Burnell

    I think we need to explore all possibilities. Fuel Cells may not be the ultimate solution for transportation but R&D in transportation fuel cells may lead to improved fuel cells for stationary applications, space travel, and who knows what else.

    I personally agree that Hybrids are the BIG solution. As Hybrids improve over the next few years other technologies will either be a part of what makes future Hybrids/PHEV’s get 100+ MPG’s or they will simply ‘go away’. Maybe our future cars will be UCSPFCPHEV’s (Ultracapacitor Solar Powered Fuel Cell Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle’s)… SuperHybrid’s!!!

    Then we can tell OPEC and Exxon where to put their barrels!!!


  • qqRockyBeans

    not impressed until they come to new jersey

  • Shines

    So the Kia Borrego gets 54 mpg? That’s gallons of Hydrogen?!?
    How expensive is that? (about $100.00 gal!!!)
    I agree that fuel cell research is good, but I can’t see selling hydrogen and transporting it as any kind of viable substitute for gasoline or electricity. It is expensive to “make” and store – it must be stored under pressure. It is the smallest element so can leak easily and is much more flamable than gasoline. For example how big is the fuel tank on the Borrego? (I bet not very…)
    I can see maybe using fuel cells in an environment where hydrogen is made to convert to electricity for the grid.
    It could only be Hollywood where 27 hydrogen fueling stations could exist. The rest of the world has to face reality.

  • ACAGal

    “not impressed until they come to new jersey”
    That’s funny! New Jersey has some impressive AE programs.

    I know we Californians are pushing transit issues, but we face onshore winds most of the time, so all the junk in the air from the ports hit us and our freeways are creators of small and ultra-fine particle pollution aside from the Green House Gas issues….everything we get here, blows east. We don’t have many subways or alternatives to cars.

    That’s not to say you folks east of the Mississippi don’t have big problems, you do. You also have more water than us in the SoWest, but less sunshine. You stand a better chance of being able to use water to create hydrogen power than we do, but we probably have more sunshine than you do. I hope you find a clean, green energy system you like, but the H cars I’ve ridden in (the Sequel, the Equinox by GM and some others) have preformed as well as ICEs under normal driving conditions, fully loaded with large male adults. If the fuel were easy to get, H would be the way to go. Until then Extended Range Evs seem a logical bridge, especially if they can be charged through solar, wind, or water energy recovery systems.

  • looby

    I heard Pee Wee Herman is endorsing the Mini FCV, Chevy Chase is changing his name to Chevy Volt and part of the bail-out money is forcing the Big Three to change Fords name to Harrison Ford for all cars sold and made in Indiana. Talk about your Hollywood influence.

  • Paul Beerkens

    I can’t believe how many people here seem to be ignorant about hydrogen. It all sounds great but the catch is where to get hydrogen from. You need a lot of energy to produce hydrogen and most of the hydrogen sold today is produced from natural gas. It is much more efficient and less polluting to produce electricity at a power plant and send it over the grid to your car’s battery.

    Where hydrogen technology can help is to solve the problem for car owners who do not have a power socket available close to where they park their car. For example people living in high risers or using on-street-parking. In those cases hydrogen could be a solution assuming that the hydrogen has been generated renewable resources. Not a great solution but one that might be marginally better than burning oil.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I’m not opposed to Hydrogen or Fuel Cell technology, it just falls into the same category as Steam Engines. Cool, but today’s technology (and any possible technology for at least the next 20 years) makes them too impractical to be considered for affordable, efficient personal or mass transportation today.

    It takes at least 4 times as much energy to drive a mile using Hydrogen as it does to drive a mile using a good battery.

    This is the fundamental problems with Hydrogen. There are other problems as well, including:
    1) In order to make fuel cells efficient (ie the ones that only take 4 times as much energy as batteries), you need to use very expensive catalysts (ie platinum)
    2) You need very tight tolerance manufacturing
    3) You need very precise, high reliability control systems to keep pressures the same on different sides of very thin membranes and to control heat and temperatures.
    3) With oil products, the energy is found naturally in nature. Hydrogen, as it exists in nature is of no use as a fuel since it is always combined with other things (usually Oxygen as in H2O-water). It must be made, using some other energy source or it must be stripped from natural gas (which is composed of Hydrogen and Carbon).
    4) Storing Hydrogen and transporting Hydrogen is very difficult. Hydrogen is the smallest element so, in gas form it will leak from essentially any tank. In liquid form, energy must be used to keep it extremely cold or it will “boil” off.
    5) Carrying Hydrogen in a vehicle isn’t easy. It can be held in liquid form, where it boils off over time ( how would you like to come back from that 2 week vacation to find your Liquid Hydrogen tank empty). It can also be held in pressure tanks like Propane or Natural gas but these tanks must be very strong in order to withstand collisions so they get heavy, just like batteries if you want to actually carry enough Hydrogen to go long distances (like 300 miles or so).
    Creating Hydrogen fuel from water is a very inefficient process today so it wastes about half of the energy used to produce it. Stripping the hydrogen from Natural Gas is a lot more economical, however, it relies on Natural Gas availability and there is really no benefit to going from Natural Gas to Hydrogen to a Fuel Cell over just burning the Natural Gas in a Natural Gas Hybrid ICE – except that the Natural Gas Hybrid would use less Natural Gas to go a mile.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    A few questions to ask any Hydrogen Proponent that they don’t want to answer:

    1) How many miles per filling can the car go?
    2) How many vehicle miles per day can the Hydrogen Fueling station provide? (I believe the ones in California can only fully fill less than 100 cars per day)
    3) How much hydrogen leaks out of the tank per day, ie how long can the car sit without the need to refuel?
    4) Where do you get the hydrogen from? If the answer is natural gas, follow up with: How many miles can the Hydrogen car go compared with either a Civic GX or better a Hybrid Civic GX (which unfortunately, Honda refuses to build). If the answer is “From Water”, follow up with: How many miles could a modern electric car (eg: RAV4EV or Tesla Roadster) go on the electricity you are using to create the hydrogen and go a mile?

    There you go Brad, dig deep when you ask the questions about Hydrogen. I don’t think Brad Pitt’s testimony really says much about whether Hydrogen is viable or not.

  • sri

    If you compare Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with best BEV technologies avaailable today,

    1. Fuel cell cars are essentially EVs which can charged quickly. Advanced BEVs like the phoenix motor car vehicles can do the same thing today.
    2. Phoenix is promising them for around 45K now. FCVs are likely to take 10-15 years to reach that level.
    3. BEVs can be easily fitted with a small engine to make them PHEVs. This will help avoid the chicken and egg issue of building infrastructure for them. No such luck with FCVs.
    4. All you need is an outlet at home to charge BEV/PHEVs at home. Filling hydrogen is going to require more setup. This again brings back point 3.
    5. Building fast charge stations for EVs is going to be a lot easier than building hydrogen infrastructure.
    6. FCVs are going to require addtional battery for regenerative breaking.
    7. Efficiency is another issue, which ex-EV1 has already analyzed.

    Given all this, why do auto companies even bother with hydrogen vehicles. The only possibilities I can think of are:
    1. It lets the auto companies delay the change, so they can stick to ICEs longer
    2. The FCVs are complicated enough to deter any new comers from taking over and keeps the maintenance money flowing. There is very little to go wrong on BEVs.
    3. It lets Big oil to gradullly become big hydrogen.

  • Consummate Skeptic

    You might suspect this given my “name”, but I do not believe M Sheridan is correct when stating that hydrogen is the fuel. This would be true if we could find a handy source of free hydrogen. Some people would then say that there’s plenty of hydrogen in water. Yes, there is. But to get it out of the water, you have to supply energy. This makes hydrogen in this case perform just like a battery EV. It is a storage mechanism for energy produced elsewhere. I would be happy to be proven wrong. Show me where to get the source of hydrogen for free. Back up your assertions with direct links to articles to prove your point using existing technology. Many of us have heard promises for decades boasting of technologies that are always just around the corner. Better yet, if you truly believe in the promise of a particular technology, invest in it. If you get rich, enjoy a laugh at my expense.

  • Cal

    sri, you’re right: 3. It lets Big oil to gradullly become big hydrogen.

    Honda introduced home fuel cell technology years ago and also introduced with their FCV clarity released this year. The push right now is for the current petroleum pirates to convert their stations to sell Hydrogen. If that happens, then it won’t be long before the oil companies are once again holding us hostage. If we are able to refuel our FCV’s at home, we would hold the cards. And again, that is only viable if the home is producing it’s own power via solar, wind, or hydro.

  • Shines

    The big part of the problem is that many engineers and common folk realize that hydrigen is abundant in nature and is the most basic element. So the thinking goes – Let’s get back to basics and figure out how to use this basic/ fundamental and abundant resource.
    The reality that people don’t seem to get is that Hydrogen is so fundamental (volatile, reactive, unstable (and not naturally found) in its fundamental state) that it is impractical to use as a mobile energy source.
    I say let the Hollywood stars play with their fuel cell cars. Eventually they will get tired of paying too much for these exotic toys.

  • mjb

    Correct, the Hydrogen *IS* the fuel, however, elemental hydrogen is rare in nature, so hydrogen for fuel cells must be sourced by breaking it free from some other element.

    The “conventional” approach is to source it from Methane (H4C) which has four H molecules and one C.

    We still end up using a conventional source of finite fossil fuel energy, we just burn it cleanly.

    That said, there is potential in harnessing biomass to generate H4C.

    There have been some exciting things done with fuel cells and stationery power generation systems. I believe Anchor Steam and Asahi Breweries are generating at least part of their electricity from yeast farts as part of the brewing process. I’d say the future of fuel cells is with stationery and supplemental power generation, and the future of vehicles is with battery technology.

  • Uncle B

    If you are pro nuclear SEE:http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5384001427276447319 Nuclear is one way to get cheap Hydrogen. Bio -diesel is another possibility, See:http://www.hemp4fuel.com/page.php?2#respond – Hemp Farming for fuel replacement in America – a definitive article with references and commentaries
    Sweden thinks otherwise, See:Sweden biogas Runs Buses, cars, trucks!
    SvenskBiogas, which produces, distributes and sells biogas for transportation in eastern Sweden. Each year the company takes 50,000 tons of a stomach-churning mixture of slaughterhouse waste, human waste and seized alcohol and turns it into clean-burning biogas. See: http://www.sweden.se/templates/cs/Article____14363.aspx
    The reat of our Coal resources can be chipped in with a little help from the sun, See: adding H2 gas from solar power installations to coal by-products makes gasoline and diesel fuel as follows:{The Fischer-Tropsch process is a chemical reaction in which a synthesis gas — a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen — is converted into liquid hydrocarbons of various forms. The process produces synthetic petroleum for use as a lubricant or fuel. See: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090131095501.htm
    China is now offering more soluti8ons than problems, See:Chinese researchers have developed a low-cost photocatalyst (MoS2/CdS co-catalysts) The H2 rate increased by more than ’30 times when loaded with only 0.2 wt % of MoS2, even higher than photocatalysts loaded with different noble metals, such as Pt, Ru, Rh, Pd, and Au.’ Another example of innovation around nanoscale materials science that improves hydrogen conversion efficiencies and reduces costs. http://memebox.com/futurescanner/show/3229-china-s-energy-innovators-low-cost-solar-hydrogen-catalyst
    Wee know how to make oil from H2 gas, See:The Fischer-Tropsch process is a chemical reaction in which a synthesis gas — a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen — is converted into liquid hydrocarbons of various forms. The process produces synthetic petroleum for use as a lubricant or fuel. See: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090131095501.htm
    Oslo, the capital of Norway, capitalizes on shit, See:Free, friendly and non-fossil – biomethane from human waste will soon power public transport in Oslo, the capital city of Norway. http://ecoworldly.com/2009/01/29/human-sewage-to-power-buses-in-norway/
    We have some great hopes, as follows,Algae can produce oil. Estimates using today’s production techniques are 400 gallons per acre. The University of New Hampshire is exploring ways of forced production of algae for biodiesel that is yielding 10,000 gallons per acre and uses salty water. Their calculations show that a tiny area of the Sonoran desert in New Mexico (about 9%) is enough area to produce all of the transportation fuel in the U.S. using their production techniques. Already, one company is experimenting with algae production stations at a power plant to capture the CO2 from the exhaust and use it to make algae for biodiesel.http://www.itsgood4.us/biodiesel.htm
    Better engines are possible, once the GM monopoly is broken, See:New piston engine!
    Directory:Massive Yet Tiny (MYT) Engine http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Massive_Yet_Tiny_(MYT)_Engine#Comments
    Natural Gas can be made synthetically
    from water and CO2 and solar/wind/geothermal
    energy utilizing the long know Sabatier process.????
    To make lots of hydrogen gas, and the complimentary and priceless oxygen, electrically should be easy considering: “There is as much wind power potential (900,000 megawatts) off our coasts as the current capacity of all power plants in the United States combined, according to a new report entitled, A Framework for Offshore Wind Energy Development in the United States, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and General Electric”. http://www.capecodtoday.com/news246.htm01/01/09
    And remember:
    If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, PERPETUAL, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!
    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!
    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)http://www.technologyreview.com/microsites/spain/solar/p6.aspx
    Things are going to change, learn to roll with the punches, or get the shite beat out of you by reality, Yankee Doodle. H2 is here to stay!

  • Prashant jha

    how is it possible to pressurize hydrogen to nano scale and is this possible and suitable ,keeping in view its combustile nature for everyday use,,plzzz reply to my gmail account. i have a keen interest on this topic

  • blitz

    I think most of you are either completely missed informed or don’t really know about hydrogen, that’s the big H in h20,the idea that you need to create or produce the most abundant element in the universe is funny.If it wasn’t for the big wigs at the top who’ve already spent years and money in gas and oil infrastructure we would not be having this conversation.The real issues were having with the hydrogen fuel cells is that if its done right you may never have to pay for fuel ever again in your whole life ever….The whole system can become a closed system,it takes electricity to break water apart just like electricity gets generated when water is created,by product water,battery to store electricity and then reuse it later,no grease, no motor oil,no motor oil,and lord knows how many other grease and lubrication that’s taken out of the equation.The waste product of fuel cell is water the source of hydrogen is water,if you recapture the water then you have you’re fuel catch the rain when running low,grab some water from your local hydrant and you’re on you’re way.(look up future cars Skateboard).
    Don’t believe what they tell believe what you learn….

  • Anonymous

    leandro qui ere compra un carro 2012

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