Article: Fuel cell cars running ahead of interim roadmap targets

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Fuel cell cars running ahead of interim roadmap targets

Technology in those fuel cell cars displayed at SEMICON® West 2006 is running ahead of many of the Department of Energy (DOE) roadmap’s interim targets for cost and performance.

The California Fuel Cell Partnership--the group of 31 auto makers, oil companies, government agencies and fuel cell technology suppliers which brought the cars to the show—aims to get 300 of the demonstration hydrogen vehicles out on the road in the next year or so in its beta-test program. So far it has 143 vehicles in use by the likes of UPS, the AC Transit bus system in the San Francisco area, and, starting in August, the US Postal Service. It has put in 23 fueling stations in the San Francisco-Sacramento and Los Angeles areas to date, with 14 more slated before the end of the year. Those who missed the cars at West can check them out regularly at events around California, or on the last Friday of every month at the organization’s office in Sacramento, as detailed on the website.

DOE’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative 2005 roadmap aims at developing hydrogen vehicle technology far enough to make a decision on commercialization by 2015, “so these technologies can begin to penetrate consumer markets by 2020.” That means making big strides on the killer issues well before that, to bring costs and performance somewhere close to those of conventional internal combustion engines. Promoters say fast recent progress means they are already close to meeting 2010 interim targets of 5000 hour fuel cell durability, $45/kW cost, and 250-mile range between fill ups.

“All are well on target to make the 5000 hour reliability mark,” says CaFCP director of communications Chris White. “Performance has doubled in the last two years. The cells UTC Power is putting in buses are lasting 4000 hours.” Ballard Power Systems reported better than 2100 hours durability in 2005. Ballard also says it has cut fuel cell costs more than 40% since 2002, getting down to $73/kW last year, and $30/kW looks doable in volume production. (Ballard figures are for the stack only, but $30/kW for the stack is what DOE figures in its $45/kW full-cell number for 2010.)

Further improvement, says the DOE manufacturing R&D roadmap, will likely depend on developing new lower cost materials, and on applying semiconductor-like high volume manufacturing technology to the polymer electrolyte membrane cells. Top priorities are correlating the physical properties of the membrane electrode assembly with its performance, and developing a fab-like set of sensors, in-line inspection and metrology tools, and advanced process controls, as well as water, thermal and gas management systems, and automated assembly equipment.

The cars are currently getting about 40-50 miles/kilogram of hydrogen, more or less equivalent to 40-50 miles per gallon, with a range of 100-200 miles per cell, slightly less than half the eventual 2015 target of 300-500 miles-per-cell. The newer models, however, says White, are already getting close to the 250 mile 2010 target. Producers are looking at ways to carry more fuel, by further compressing the gas by increasing pressure from the current 5000 psi up to 10,000 psi, or storing the fuel as a metal hydride, or by some sort of chemical storage.

Full details of DOE’s Roadmap on Manufacturing R&D for the Hydrogen Economy can be found at