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2016 Tucson Fuel Cell

IHS Automotive: Fuel Cell Forecast Shows Slow Growth

Global hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle models, production and infrastructure.

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) represent one wave of vehicle electrification. Along with hybrid and pure electric vehicles, hydrogen FCEVs will transform the auto industry by providing new models designed to reduce our overall impact on the environment.

IHS Automotive issued a news release looking at FCEV production as well as the components, hydrogen and infrastructure markets. Although finding that the current number of models produced should rise from three to 17 by 2027, global annual production may only reach 70,000 units. That only represents 0.1 percent of all vehicles produced according to IHS Automotive forecasts.

Fast Refueling, Longer Range

Hydrogen FCEVs are regularly compared with electric vehicles. However, FCEVs are more like conventional vehicles that have the shorter refueling times and longer driving ranges that consumers prefer.

“Refueling habits with an FCEV will be very similar to that of a conventional car. This will definitely help with customer acceptance of FCEVs,” said Ben Scott, senior analyst with IHS Automotive. On the other hand, battery electric vehicles require several hours of recharge time. Even with a quick charge, it takes at least 20 minutes for electric vehicles to provide drivers with another 50 to 60 miles of driving range. For long-range trips, FCEVs hold a strong advantage.

Three FCEVs Currently Available

There are currently three FCEVs available for sale in the U.S., but each is limited to markets such as Southern California where a rudimentary, but emerging refueling station infrastructure is in place. These models include the Hyundai Tucson FCEV, Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity.

The Honda Clarity is the oldest of the three, introduced in the U.S. beginning in 2008. This pioneering sedan was leased to customers in Japan and in Southern California in small numbers, 45 to be exact in the U.S. An all-new Clarity Fuel Cell arrives late this year with a targeted range of more than 300 miles, effectively matching the Tesla Model S.

The Hyundai Tucson FCEV followed the Clarity to the U.S. market in 2012, although previous generation models were tested as far back as 2001. The Tucson FCEV’s range is 265 miles, easily outstripping nearly all battery electric vehicles.

Toyota, like Hyundai and Honda, has been testing and deploying fuel cells for years, primarily in its home market. The Toyota Mirai has the longest range of all three, coming in at 312 miles and matching what many conventional gasoline-powered models achieve.

Fourteen additional models are currently under development with much of that production centered in Japan and Korea, with the European production outpacing Asia beginning in 2021. Manufacturers such as General Motors, BMW, Nissan, Ford and Mercedes-Benz continue to conduct tests on FCEVs and will contribute to the number of offerings.

The Top Challenges for FCEV Adoption

The following are three important challenges facing FCEV adoption:

A dedicated fuel network is required. Hydrogen fueling stations are generally very large and require dedicated sites. Even if oil producers were inclined to share space with hydrogen pumps, most simply cannot. Creating just one dedicated site can cost more than $3 million and thousands of new stations would need to be built to make FCEVs nationally feasible. Currently, there are just 23 public hydrogen stations in the United States with California claiming 20 at this time.

A change from brown to green hydrogen fuel is necessary to reach true sustainability. Currently 96 percent of all hydrogen is derived from fossil fuels representing brown hydrogen, including natural gas, liquid hydrogen and coal. To be truly sustainable, green hydrogen is preferable and derived from renewable resources, including wind power and solar energy. Right now, those options come at a premium and are simply not cost effective.

Platinum costs will likely rise. A key catalyst for producing electricity in FCEVs is platinum, which combines hydrogen (fuel) with oxygen (air). Currently running at 83 percent of the cost of gold or just over $1,000 per ounce, the price for this rare metal is likely to surge as FCEV production increases. IHS Automotive notes that FCEVs utilize five to six times as much platinum as a diesel catalytic converter. There is a real need to reduce that amount or find less-costly non-noble metals as a substitute.

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