Today, consumers in California can drive and lease the first wave of commercially available fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in the U.S, and additional models are promised from several leading automakers in the next few months and years.
Of equal importance, today’s FCEV drivers can fill-up at any of nine hydrogen fueling stations in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, with 50 stations expected to be operational by the end of 2015.
What does this mean? For the fuel cell and hydrogen industry, and for those who will benefit from FCEVs, the time has come to talk about these vehicles in the present tense. A new game clock is running; the long-envisioned fuel cell future is indeed underway.
Fuel cells generate electricity through a hydrogen-based chemical process, not combustion. The process is silent, with no moving parts, and because there is no combustion there are no tailpipe emissions; the only byproducts are heat and water vapor.
FCEVs can run on hydrogen generated from renewable sources including biogas, wind and solar power, as well as from more traditional fuels like America’s abundant natural gas.
Moreover, as consumers in California are discovering, FCEVs are the only zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) technology that replicates today’s driving experience and convenience with a 300 to 400 miles or greater driving range and rapid fill-up of three to five minutes.
FCEVs SUPPORT ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT, ECONOMIC SECURITY
FCEVs will be part a diverse mix of vehicle types that allow American consumers to fulfill a wide range of driving needs. It only takes a quick look at recent headlines to see why the commercial arrival of FCEVs is so important for America.
With traditional energy-exporting regions of the world in turmoil, America is looking more and more to domestic energy sources. Hydrogen can be produced virtually anywhere in the country from many conventional and renewable energy sources. The nation already produces nine million metric tons of hydrogen annually, enough to fuel 30 to 40 million FCEVs.
Environmental concerns from clean air to global warming also help explain why FCEVs are so important. In 2013, governors of eight states signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road within 12 years. More recently, NESCAUM (the nonprofit association of air quality agencies in the Northeast) developed a plan to begin implementing the ZEV vision defined by the MOU.
Fuel cells and hydrogen energy are the last clean energy technologies in which the U.S. is the global manufacturing leader. Nearly half of all jobs in the industry involve high-skill manufacturing, and when the infrastructure development, sales, and service jobs are added, the job potential is very significant.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Despite recent progress, the path to America’s hydrogen future faces many uncertainties, but most analysts agree the chief concern is how to develop the nation’s crucial hydrogen infrastructure. To help address this issue, in 2013 a public private collaboration, H2USA, was co-launched by the U.S. Department of Energy and industry. H2USA’s mission is to promote the commercial introduction and widespread adoption of FCEVs across America, and its members include state governments, automotive companies, fuel cell and hydrogen energy technology suppliers, energy companies, national laboratories, and trade associations.
Through the combined efforts of its members, H2USA is developing real-world approaches to address the technical, financial, and societal issues surrounding hydrogen infrastructure.
America faces a very bright fuel cell future, but it will take hard work and strong planning to fulfill the FCEV promise. Today FCEVs are no longer at the curb; they have entered the on-ramp and are preparing to merge into the mainstream of American driving.
And I can tell you, the FCEV industry is already thinking about the passing lane.
Morry Markowitz is President & Executive Director of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, www.fchea.org