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”.