Hydrogen power: Still a gas after all these years

April 20, 2008

There must have been news conferences, press releases and lengthy stories, but I missed them.  It came as a quiet surprise to stumble across GM’s website talking about a fleet of 100 hydrogen fuel-cell cars, on the road now.

Chevy has launched a test fleet of hydrogen-powered fuel cell Equinox SUVs. This fleet hit the streets of New York City, Washington, D.C., and Southern California.

“Project Driveway” is the first large-scale market test of fuel cell vehicles with real drivers in the real world. Why? Because hydrogen fuel cells use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions. They’re a sustainable technology for a better environment. And they ultimately reduce our dependence on petroleum. Equinox Fuel Cell is an electric vehicle powered by the GM fourth-generation fuel cell system, our most advanced fuel cell propulsion system to date. The electric motor traction system will provide the vehicle with instantaneous torque, smooth acceleration, and quiet performance.

The Equinox Fuel Cell will go nearly 150 miles per fill-up, and reach a top speed of 100 mph. Green Car Journal has given the Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell its Green Car Vision Award. The Equinox Fuel Cell won the award over several nominees, including the Honda FCX Clarity and Toyota Prius Plug-In.

If you live in one of those cities, you may be eligible to test drive one of the vehicles.  Were I there, my application to try one would have been in before I started this piece.

It took 20 years longer than it should have to get hybrid fueled vehicles on the road; hydrogen power lags at least as far back.  To those of us who long ago gave up hoping the Detroit Big 3 might see the light on hydrogen in any form, the news GM has a fleet of fuel-cells in pre-Beta testing is most interesting.  We remember GM’s last foray into electric cars.  Hopes do not rise, at least not great hopes, and not high.

It’s been 31 years since Roger Billings drove a hydrogen-powered internal combustion car in Jimmy Carter’s inaugural parade.  Hope abides, but not forever.  Feathers cannot sustain hope that long, Emily.

Fuel cells provide significant advantages, though.  The need for something like fuel cells should drive a market to make the things work.   [More about fuel cells, hydrogen, and Roger Billings, below the fold.]

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