Today is Earth Day, and right here in Sacramento U.S. President Bush is going to make an appearance at the California Fuel Cell Partnership – a depot of experimental fuel cell cars sponsored by a consortium of automakers, located just west of Sacramento’s downtown. It will be interesting to see what quotes come out of this visit from the President.
The astonishing thing about fuel cells and hydrogen is even environmental activists, for the most part, don’t have the slightest idea what a fuel cell is, or that hydrogen is not a primary fuel. The truth about fuel cells is this – they aren’t ready for vehicles and they may never be. We’ve written extensively about this in our blog “Fuel Cell Cars Aren’t Ready” as well as in articles on our main website “The 100% Electric Car.” To make a long story short, fuel cells cost way too much, use extremely expensive materials, break easily, and degrade quickly. Breakthroughs in fuel cell technology have been just around the corner for the last twenty years.
Moreover, hydrogen has to be refined from something else. Doing this is expensive and inefficient. Why electrolyse hydrogen using electricity and water, when you can just store the electricity in batteries and retain twice as much of the energy that was in the original electricity? Ditto for extracting hydrogen from, say, bioethanol – why not just burn the bioethanol and use all those BTUs that would have been lost in conversion?
Even worse, hydrogen has to be stored either under extreme pressure, or liquified under extreme cold. Some new storage techniques claim to store hydrogen by bonding it to metals using nanotechnology, but don’t hold your breath. Hydrogen is interesting as a fuel in the future precisely because you can make it many different ways, but until it can be made more efficiently, and stored in a safe, practical and cost-effective manner, forget about it ever becoming a replacement for conventional fuels.
Back in 2000 we reported on the California Fuel Cell Partnership in the story “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars.” They were about as close to getting cars on the road back then as they are now – a few more years. There are a lot of ways to get cars to get better mileage and run on alternatives to petroleum – new diesel engine technologies, biodiesel and bioethanol, hybrid and even all-electric cars. And meaningful quantities of these cars are making it onto the road today, far sooner than hydrogen fuel cell cars.
U.S. President Bush’s Earth Day 2006 visit to the California Fuel Cell Partnership apparently is his way of telling us he cares about the environment. California Governor Schwarzeneggar has also been a great proponent of fuel cells with his support for California’s “Hydrogen Highway.” But they are off the mark if they think fuel cell cars are going to ever going to replace gasoline powered cars.