PHOTO CAPTION: Mercedes Benz B-Class F-Cell at hydrogen refueling station

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Still Highway Bound

Encouraged by technological progress, Germany throws its support behind hydrogen refueling network.

Published: 24-Sep-2009

> No self-respecting automaker would have dared appear without a zippy-looking plug-in prototype at the annual Frankfurt Auto Show in September. Amid all the hype about electric cars, it was a surprise to hear Daimler Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche declare that hydrogen fuel cells, not batteries, are the ultimate way to move beyond oil. "The chances further down the road seem to me better on the fuel-cell side than on the battery-electric side," Zetsche told reporters at the show on Sept. 15. Hydrogen, he said, beats electric batteries at moving cars long distances without refueling. Hydrogen can also power big, roomy sedans much more readily than batteries.

Hydrogen was much hyped early in the decade only to be upstaged by hybrids and electrics. Yet on Sept. 10, the German government, along with Daimler (DAI) and a group of energy companies including Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) announced plans to build 1,000 hydrogen filling stations in Germany by 2015. Two days earlier, automakers including Toyota (TM), Ford (F), General Motors, and Hyundai called on energy companies to build an international network of hydrogen filling stations. By then, automakers say, there could be hundreds of thousands of vehicles on the road that use fuel cells to convert hydrogen to electrical power, with no emissions except steam.

Electric cars will probably be commercially available sooner than hydrogen cars, and they certainly enjoy higher public awareness. But little-noticed advances have helped hydrogen regain credibility with carmakers. Daimler and other companies like Honda Motor (HMC) have reduced the size of hydrogen fuel-cell systems to the point that they fit into a standard midsize car. Honda has 35 test versions of its FCX Clarity fuel-cell cars on Japanese and U.S. roads. Daimler's prototype, a hydrogen-powered Mercedes B-Class compact, can travel 240 miles before taking three minutes to refuel.


Antares is first aircraft to lift-off and fly on hydrogen fuel cell power plant alone.

Unlike the Boeing aircraft that used lithium ion batteries for take-off, the Antares lifted off on fuel cells alone.

Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell sedan

Honda's Home Energy Station IV can produce hydrogen fuel for the Clarity, as well as heat and electricity, to an average-size home fueled with natural gas.

Proterra HFC 35 prototype battery-dominate hybrid transit bus

The advanced hybrid electric bus is designed to accommodate a variety of auxiliary power units (APU’s) including diesel, gasoline and CNG.


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