Speeding Up the Fuel Cell

Ford Fusion Hydrogen 999

This week Ford announced that it set the land speed record for a production-based fuel cell powered car. The Ford Fusion Hydrogen 999, the world’s only hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered racecar, hit 207 mph on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Does this news make you want to clear a space in your garage for a fuel cell car? Not so fast.

Fuel cell vehicles face a number of challenges. It’s hard to store enough hydrogen on board and to use it efficiently, so fuel cell vehicles can’t drive very far between fill-ups. Many of today’s fuel cell vehicles have just 100-150 miles of on-road range. Durability is also an issue. Most of us are accustomed to cars that last for at least 100,000 miles, but today’s fuel cell vehicles have a much shorter lifespan. Before fuel cells are ready for widespread use, the US Department of Energy estimates that they will have to last seven times longer than they do today. Also, like any new technology, fuel cells are expensive. Today’s fuel cell prototype can cost well over a million dollars, so the fuel cell car’s price has a long way to fall before it is affordable for most buyers. Finally, there aren’t many places to buy hydrogen yet. While the US has nearly 200,000 gas stations, just 31 hydrogen stations exist across the country, and many of them are not open to the public.

Does making 207 mph fuel cell vehicle help to solve any of these issues? In some ways, yes. One of Ford’s stated goals in taking the fuel-cell racecar to Bonneville was to improve the efficiency of the fuel cell powertrain and to reduce its cost. But what about increasing on-board hydrogen storage, fuel cell durability, and hydrogen availability? At this point, it seems more practical to focus on increasing the fuel cell vehicle’s range to 200+ miles rather than pushing its top speed to 200+ miles per hour.

Racing programs are one way that auto companies develop and test new technologies. Race victories and land speed records may motivate engineers in a way that corporate mandates and or financial incentives cannot. But it’s not yet clear whether Ford’s work on the Fusion Hydrogen 999 has moved it any further ahead in the race to develop a fuel cell car that can replace the conventional automobile. What Ford’s land speed record has done is generate a fair amount of media attention, which may be the last thing that over-hyped fuel cell technology needs right now.

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  • TheFlyingDutchmen

    Fuel Cells are tantalizing because you have the same concept as today – fuel your vehicle and then drive off into the wild blue yonder. Compare that to electric cars that need to charge over night and only go about 50 miles or something before needing their next overnight charge. That is, unless they come up with some way of metering cars as they go down the road powered by overhead cables.

    However, electric cars are doable and many experts question whether fuel cells are. Electric cars waste less electricity than creating hydrogen, freezing it, compressing it, transporting it and then burning it. A lot of experts don’t think that hydrogen and fuel cell cars will ever be practacle.

  • David Harmon

    With the cost of solar panels, it would be easy and cost effective to generate enough hydrogen by electrolysis to power an auto 100-150 miles. With a hybrid electric engine, the solar panels could charge the batteries as well providing an increase in the range to over 200 miles. In the Southwest, the vehicle would pay for itself in less than six years.

    I’ll take 100 vehicles next year and set up two hydrogen refueling stations as a demonstration project with an option for 1000-5000 vehicles each year thereafter.

    602 478-9778

  • Eduardo Maio

    In 1999 the NECAR 4 based on the A Class did 145km/h (around 90mph) and had a range of 450km (about 280 miles).

    I’ve seen some discussion around an hybrid like system that stored all that unused energy to make the electrolysis onboard and generate hydrogen.

    Anyway, it’s more pratical to fill up with hydrogen and keep going then having to stop for 7 or 8 hours to recharge your electric car ๐Ÿ˜‰ Also, not everyone has a garage to plug it in ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Indigo

    Why is Ford wasting money developing a multi-million dollar Fool Cell vehicle when they are on the brink of bankruptcy? FCVs just don’t impress me. Why didn’t Fdrd spend the money on making a hybrid Focus or a diesel Fusion, or ANYTHING else that has the possibility of being marketable?

  • shadman

    Ths is what youo want, and why the big 3/4 are working on it.
    http://www.teslamotors.com/index.php

  • Brett Mack

    There’s no reason an electric can’t be recharged quickly with enough R&D. As long as you can supply the current, you should be able to charge an appropriate (not yet existing) battery quickly, with plenty of range. Perhaps a supercapacitor to take to charge quickly, then trickle it out to the batteries? Enough R&D, and we can solve the problems. It’ll cost much less than the IRAQ war, and make us far more secure.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Flying Dutchman,
    My EV1 went over 100 miles (a few times over 140 miles) before having to charge. Usually, I just charged it every night and had no problems with my normal 70 mile daily commute.
    The biggest problem with fuel cells (other than the cost and complexity of the cells) is the fuel. We get hydrogen either by extracting it from natural gas or by using lots of electricity to strip it out of water. Unfortunately, this is a very wasteful way to use either electricity or natural gas. You’d get a whole lot more miles driven if you put your natural gas directly into an internal combustion engine or your electricity into a battery electric car.

  • Floyd

    Why do we still keep hearing about H2 fuel cells? Looks like Tesla has figured out the electric car, and the technology will continue to improve.Electric cars are possible, and so are plug in hybrids. I work in a plant that produces H2 from methane and it is not cheap to produce. Methane is not cheap these days either. I agree with the “Flying Duchman”, Power your ICE with Natural Gas or use it to produce electricity. Feel free to disagree, but I smell Big Oil all over the push to get H2 into our future cars.

  • langjie

    were you on who killed the electric car?

    anyways, fuel cells are great in concept, except that the entire infrastructure and feasibility of it all is crap

  • Sal

    Ford built this car to stay on top of the speed world . Also, this shows that that American muscle is built in everything Ford gets their hands on.