Automakers Stretch Reach for Alternative Fuels


The Detroit Bureau - October 8, 2012

Nis­san and Hyundai are among automak­ers will­ing to putting fuel-cell vehi­cles into production.

There’s an ‘up-side’ and a ‘down-side’ to the venture.

The good news:

The energy pro­duced by a fuel cell stack, mean­while, could be used to run the same sort of motor drive sys­tem found in today’s elec­tric vehi­cles. But, since a tank of hydro­gen could read­ily be refilled in a mat­ter of min­utes – rather than the hours it takes to charge up an elec­tric vehi­cle – pro­po­nents often referred to the fuel cell as a “refill­able battery.”

The pri­mary problems:

  • While hydro­gen is abun­dant, it is always found in a chem­i­cal form, such as the hydro­car­bons that make up gaso­line, requir­ing lots of energy to free up the gas;
  • Dis­trib­ut­ing hydro­gen is tech­ni­cally com­plex and there’s no mass infra­struc­ture in place to rival today’s gaso­line sta­tion network;
  • Stor­ing hydro­gen onboard a vehi­cle is costly and dif­fi­cult; and
  • Fuel cells remain expen­sive and dif­fi­cult to mass produce.