Hydrogen fuel cars are in the near future

The UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies is researching the feasibility of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the market. 

At the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis), which was recently featured in the Los Angeles Times, researchers have reached optimistic conclusions about the viability of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), a zero emission vehicle technology that is now beginning to appear in California. In recent years there has been increased effort worldwide to develop inexpensive cars, trucks and SUVs that run on hydrogen fuel cells and build a sustainable and cost-effective infrastructure to support them.

“Hydrogen fuel cell cars offer consumer value similar or superior to today’s gasoline cars,” UC Davis professor of environmental science Joan Ogden to the LA Times. “The technology readily enables large vehicle size, a driving range of 300 to 400 miles, and a fast refueling time of three to five minutes.”

The biggest obstacle in convincing people to buy FCVs is the current lack of hydrogen fueling stations. However, those fueling stations are unlikely to be built without a critical mass of FCVs to provide business. Researchers at ITS-Davis acknowledge that it’s a “chicken and egg dilemma,” where neither cars nor stations can realistically be implemented without each other.

“The question isn’t whether fuel cell vehicles are technically ready: They are,” said Ogden to the LA Times. Ogden is the director of the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways program at ITS-Davis. “But how do you build confidence in hydrogen’s future for investors, fuel suppliers, automakers, and, of course, for consumers?”

ITS-Davis researchers have determined that, if given an initial investment of $100 to $200 million, fuel cell vehicles are poised to compete with gasoline cars in price. Some recent developments have helped make FCVs more practical, including $46 million from the State of California to construct 28 hydrogen fueling stations, which will decrease costs for building stations and vehicles, and increased natural gas availability for hydrogen fuel production.

Several car manufacturers, such as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, are getting ready to roll out FCVs in 2015. And in what was called a “milestone in the commercialization” of hydrogen vehicles, in January, a station at Cal State L.A., just east of downtown, became the state’s first to sell hydrogen by the kilogram to the public, with more fully operational stations soon to follow around California.

The LA Times article mentioned more ways to make FCVs appealing to a consumer market include tax exemptions and access to carpool lanes for FCV drivers. Similar government-backed initiatives are underway in Germany and Japan as well.

“We seem to be tantalizingly close to the beginning of a hydrogen transition,” said Ogden. “The next three to four years will be critical for determining whether hydrogen vehicles are just a few years behind electric vehicles, rather than decades.”

Read the full LA Times article. http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-fuel-cell-vehicles-davis-20140814-story.html

View a video, listen to a webinar, and read a blog and Joan’s Ogden’s full research study on hydrogen FCVs. http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/blog-post/the-hydrogen-transition-this-time-for-real/

Learn more about the Institute of Transportation Studies. http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/