[extropy-chat] Hydrogen cars

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Sat Mar 11 00:25:09 UTC 2006

We have occasionally discussed "cars of the future", either electric,
or hybrids, or hydrogen.  Among fans of such technology there is a lot
of skepticism towards hydrogen cars, despite (or perhaps because of)
the fact that it is the quasi-official choice of the U.S. government for
automatic research.  (Although in the past few weeks Bush has said some
nice things about plug-in hybrids.)

I read an interview in Wired magazine a few months ago
with the GM guy in charge of hydrogen car research, and
the reporter was pretty hostile, apparently favoring hybrids:
<http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.07/start.html?pg=11>. The reporter
implied that hydrogen would not be practical for decades and that this
was just a distraction.  This has been a fairly common message from the
grass roots future-car community.

However there is evidence now that hydrogen cars will really happen,
and possibly sooner than many thought.  In January, Honda announced that
it would begin production of fuel cell hydrogen vehicles within three
or four years.  That presumably means going beyond the prototype stage
and actually selling vehicles (only in Japan, at first).

Here is an article about it, from the excellent Green Car Congress blog:
and here is background on the Honda next-gen FCX hydrogen fuel-cell car:

The FCX, as with most hydrogen cars, is basically an electric vehicle.
The hydrogen reacts with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate electricity.
The FCX has one electric motor under the hood and two in-wheel rear motors
for power.  This gives it an effective 174 horsepower, compared to 244 for
the similar-sized Accord.  But electric motors have an advantage at low
speeds as they can deliver their full rated torque from the beginning.
The range of the FCX is 350 miles, comparable to the Accord and well
above the DOE target for next gen hydrogen cars.

One problem in this short time frame is, where will people get the
hydrogen?  One idea Honda has is a home hydrogen fueling system.
It turns natural gas into hydrogen, and can also be adapted to produce
electricity.  If they do decide to sell it in the U.S. there is also
a burgeoning hydrogen fueling infrastructure in California: see

I believe Honda already has some prototype hydrogen vehicles on the road
being tested, although they are earlier versions than the next-gen FCX and
don't have quite the range and power.  But apparently progress has been
rapid in fuel cells and hydrogen storage, and the company is convinced
that the time is right to move this technology into commercial production.

So while you will still see many comments about how hydrogen power is a
fraud, inefficient, impractical, and all the rest, it appears that the
car companies are ignoring all the nay-sayers and simply going ahead and
building hydrogen powered cars.  Apparently it was not a fraud, after
all, and companies are serious about putting these cars on the road.
And while it was easy for that reporter above to sneer at GM, why
should we believe a company that still sells Hummers (you could almost
hear the scorn dripping), Honda in contrast has a sterling reputation.
With them backing H2 and promising to bring cars to market in four years,
hydrogen has to be taken seriously.


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