Wednesday, January 19, 2005


H-Cell Probabilities

Andrew Olmsted discusses hydrogen cars of the future. But he misses a good point that an engineer I know - who, btw, works directly in this area - made to me recently.

The initial markets for hydrogen vehicles will be captive fleets that burn a lot of fuel going back and forth in a limited area. In that situation, a business can make a case for converting to hydrogen, including the cost of etablishing their own refueling station(s). For example, a warehouse could use hydrogen to power a fleet of forklifts.

We will know hydrogen cars are in our future, then, when we see a proliferation of captive fleets first, where the kinks in the technology will be ironed out and an infrastructure, such as refueling stations, can be established. Only after that will hydrogen cars become a mass-market item.

It will take some time - the engineer figured 15 years or so, and that's even presuming a cost-effective source of the hydrogen can be found to begin with. Between now & then, hybrids and micro-cars look like pretty good bets.

Another engineer I know in the field elaborated this even further. He pointed out that we'll see h-cells used in smaller "appliances" long before they catch on with cars. For example, a laptop h-cell battery that lasts 12 hours might cost twice as much as the lithium one you can buy today, but it would be worth it to many people.

For sake of argument, let's say half of all laptop users would fork over the extra cash to get an h-cell. Can we say the same about buying a car? Probably not.