Government help needed to carry load to
optimize fuel cells for transportation
by Shirley Georgi
There were very few presentations at EVAA this past December that did not mention fuel cells. This topic is as popular at an automotive meeting as the Enron bankruptcy is on the nightly news; fortunately, the information exchange is much more positive. Every leading manufacturer emanates enthusiasm as they speak of the potential for fuel cells, but their statements always contain a cautionary clause so that the exuberance of the clean air possibilities with fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) does not lead to unrealistic expectations for the next few years. In verbalizing about their efforts to support fuel cells, spokespersons from the automotive companies expound on their program goals, but they do not forget to include statements for an unprecedented need for government support.
Widely publicized is the new Freedom CAR cooperative government/industry partnership, involving Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler. This cooperative is under the auspices of the Department of Energy and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), which also directed the former PNGV (Partnership for the Next Generation of Vehicles) program for fuel efficiency. In his address in announcing the new program, Secretary Spensor Abraham stated that $1.5 billion in U.S. subsidies will be reallocated for fuel cell automotive applications. In his speech he said, “...Freedom CAR’s long-term goal is to develop technologies for hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles that will require no foreign oil and emit no harmful pollutants or greenhouse gases.” Although the speech was “energizing,” it was filled with glittering generalities.
Nothing was said that would indicate that Freedom Car obligates automakers to produce FCVs or what funding levels would be allocated. (That should be determined by Congress as they review President Bush’s 2003 budget.) However, a formal partnership among the OEMs is expected soon. One positive note - the new program will cover vehicles such as the SUVs, the leading “love” of the American public as shown by automotive market sales.
Demonstration vehicles show visible feasibility for FCVs
Seeing is believing! By having more than a dozen fuel cell vehicles on display at the Sacramento Convention Center, the auto companies showed their commitment in working toward goals involving clean air and a hydrogen based energy source for transportation.
The CaFCP studies fuel cell commercialization
Released this past fall were the results of a study drafted by a team of experts for the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP).
The CaFCP directed the study to specifically identify the challenges and potential solutions to the commercialization of fuel cell vehicles utilizing four options -hydrogen, methanol, ethanol and a cleaner gas formulation than currently available today. Although the study describes technical challenges, there are also infrastructure issues, potential market development factors, and costs which remain as primary concerns. Two of the six major conclusions in the study directly relate to government support and funding. They are stated as follows: 1) Because the investment risks
associated with FCVs, including infrastructure requirements, are so great and risky, the study concludes that government support, beyond R&D assistance, will be required for limited periods of time. 2) If an alternate 100,000 vehicles/year milestone is to be achieved, the study concludes that more automakers and more models will be required than currently anticipated. Further, to obtain this greater automaker commitment will require the early and “unequivocal” demonstration of strong government support, particularly in
investment risk management. “California Fuel Cell Partnership Releases Study on Fuel Cell Vehicle Commercialization,” www.evaa.org/evaa/pages/cafcp.html, 10/16/01
(Requests for copies of the consultants’ study, “Bringing Fuel Cell Vehicles to Market: Some Challenges with Fuel Alternatives,” can be obtained from the CaFP by calling 916-371-2870.)
What is the next step?
Although the auto companies have all pledged to work on fuel cell vehicle technology, there are still basic issues which need to be addressed -perhaps beyond what the auto companies have been able to do and should do. Proving and building of consensus on the long-term societal value of FCVs is a challenge and perhaps too great a task without government funding. (Thus far, the American public, in general, has shown no concern about fuel economy and has never been convinced
to buy fuel efficient vehicles.) Resolution of the newly needed infrastructure toward hydrogen energy and associated costs will require the support and work of many groups, including the government. Government will also have to play a key role in the development of practical fuel conversion and the associated cleanup technologies. All factors must come together for successful market development.
Toyota’s CHF reformer is onboard the FCHV-5. Fuel, air and water pass through the combustor, vaporizer, catalyzers, etc. and exit in the form of hydrogen. The reforming of CHF requires high reaction temperatures of about 8000 C. Many reaction processes must be combined.
The CHF can be used cleanly in internal combustion engines as well as with fuel cells. (Artwork is courtesy of Toyota.)
At EVAA, the gala, glitz and glamour of beautifully designed fuel cell vehicles are needed to celebrate accomplishments, applaud engineering talent and appreciate the aesthetic designs of the demonstration and prototype models. But, as John DiCicco, a senior fellow with Environmental Defense says, “Without the guidance from government to improve fuel economy and the associated commitment by the industry to make ongoing fuel economy improvements, I think the likelhood of fuel cell vehicles or other advanced technology options coming into the market is actually very slim. There simply will not be a business case.” “Crticial Eye,” evWorldR People & Technology, 02/04/02