Fuel-Cell vehicle: the test drive

Jan 24th: With Joe Bono, after a test-drive in the fuel-cell adapted Hyundai

After the recent European Energy Forum dinner-debate on fuel-cells,   I was invited to take a test-drive in an experimental fuel-cell car, an adapted Hyundai (from Korea, where I spent four happy years in an earlier life).

The project is funded by the EU’s Research Framework Programme (but ultimately by you and me, as EU tax-payers), and is managed by a consortium of various interests including the industry.  The car drives like a regular automatic.  Like all-electric vehicles, it is uncannily quiet.  Finding myself on a fairly clear bit of road, I put my foot down.  Not much happened (though to be fair we were five-up).  The Project Manager who accompanied us assured me that “we had plenty of power there”.  Didn’t seem like that to me, but then I’m comparing it with the XF.

It seemed to be a perfectly satisfactory little car.  But it left me with the odd question.  Why would someone buy it?  It seems likely to be substantially more expensive than a similar petrol or diesel.  The range (at the moment) is about 200 miles — half that of a regular car.  At today’s prices, the hydrogen fuel will be roughly the same as diesel.  We’re told that the price will eventually come down, but we hear that on all renewable technologies.  On most we’re still waiting.  And the hydrogen infrastructure for filling up is as rare as hens’ teeth.  So only someone obsessive about emissions would think about it, and there aren’t too many of those about.  And even then, we don’t know where the electricity came from to electrolyse the water for the hydrogen.  It could be from a coal-fired power station, in which case there’s little or no óverall emission saving.

One more thing.  Given that most big auto companies round the world are developing hydrogen fuel cell technology themselves — why is EU tax-payers’ money duplicating the effort?  As Peter Simple put it, “I only ask because I want to know”.

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10 Responses to Fuel-Cell vehicle: the test drive

  1. It is so easy to spend other people’s money on what you think is essential, isn’t it. That is the answer to Peter Simple.
    Yesterday I asked my very laconic son-in-law about fracking (more oil production) and he said it is a perfectly normal procedure. “We do it ourselves regularly in Saudi.” “Even in shale?” He just looked at me as if I were mad. “It is a perfectly normal procedure.”
    And we are, so I read, sitting on heaps of oil bearing shale!
    The sooner that speeding ticket is delivered the better, I reckon.

  2. John Russell says:

    !00% correct. The fuel-cell car, for the reasons you give, is a dead end as it is at the moment. The point is I think though, that fossil-fuelled transport is ultimately doomed so the more experimental research that is carried out from now on, the better. There will be many cul-de-sacs along the way.

    Of course there is tons of fossil oil left; it’s just that it’s becoming more expensive to extract the remaining, which of course puts prices up and thus make alternatives more competitive. Hence the research. Simple economics.

    • “Fossil fuel transport is ultimately doomed”. Yes, but they’ve been saying that since Paul Ehrlich in 1960 (“We’ll run out by 1980”), and somehow it just doesn’t happen. The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. It ran out because we developed better technologies, and the same will happen with fossil fuels. Meantime, we seem to have shale gas available for literally centuries. Time to start fracking.

      • John Russell says:

        Agreed Roger, but although it will never run out completely, oil becomes more expensive to retrieve and thus the price rises at the pumps. The rising price then makes more and more complex retrieval solutions viable. Hence, for instance, the development of tar sands which, although costly, are viable due to the high prices fetched by the end product.

        Of course high oil prices makes alternatives more competitive and drives their development (like the fuel cell car you drove). But the problem we’re running into is that for the foreseeable future we’re unlikely to find an alternative that was as cheap as fossil oil has been. So the price of energy will rise much higher before there’s the possibility of it starting to come back down.

  3. I respect your view, John. But I think shale gas is a game-changer. Let’s get fracking!

    • John Russell says:

      I hope you’re not saying we shouldn’t bother with any environmental assessments first, Roger?

      I guess where we’ll differ is that while I agree that shale gas — subject to environmental checks — is an excellent interim replacement for coal in converted power stations, it’s a non-starter when it comes to new power stations designed to help reduce our long term emissions. To meet that requirement I’ll go for a mix of nuclear and renewables.

      I’m also hoping for a method being found for storing energy generated by wind turbines to overcome the intermittency problem. I guess that’s an argument for another post, though.

  4. rossjwarren says:

    These Fuel cell cars are not much better than Petrol engines, only the pollution happens elsewhere. Hydrogen doesn’t grow on trees and most if not all production uses hydrocarbons, one way or another.

  5. Pingback: Fuel Cells, German-style | Roger Helmer MEP

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