Global environmental challenges
Even hydrogen cars have a carbon problem
Given all the electricity needed to get hydrogen compressed and ready for the tank, that juice will need to come from solar, wind or (whisper it) nuclear power to get the fuel cells under the hood nearer to zero carbon output over the fuel’s ”life-cycle.” According to a Volkswagen manager developing the technology, the current mix of power generated on the U.S. grid is still too dirty.
The efficiency of the fuel cell is what makes these prototypes greener than the average gas gazzler, but then there’s also the “chicken and egg” problem of fuel distribution to consider. John Tillman, VW’s program manager for U.S. advanced powertrain research, said hydrogen refueling stations can cost two to three times as much as a gasoline equivalent to build.
“Government’s going to have to get involved in some ways,” he said ahead of a test drive of a VW Passat Lingyu, which was showcased at last year’s Beijing Olympics. “There won’t be enough fuel (at first) to make it profitable.”
Speaking at the California Fuel Cell Partnership headquarters, just outside Sacramento, Tillman also showed reporters what he called the world’s busiest hydrogen pump — owing to the many car companies involved: Ford, Toyota, Hyundai and Nissan all display signage outside.
And while these erstwhile rivals are not working on specific fuel-cell technology together, the partnership does offer them a chance to ask — and try to answer — tough questions about poultry, and which comes first.