The FCX Clarity at the hydrogen tour kickoff last year in Maine. (Jim Motavalli photo)
Although hydrogen just took a hit Energy Secretary Steven Chu cut $100 million in transportation-related fuel-cell funding from the 2010 budget that hasn't meant flat tires for the Hydrogen Road Rally, which kicked off yesterday in Chula Vista, California on its way to Vancouver, British Columbia. The rally lasts until June 3, and you can follow its progress here.
I was at the kickoff of last year's rally, in Portland, Maine. I chatted with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who didn't know much about hydrogen but seemed enthusiastic about it all and sat behind the wheel of the Honda FCX Clarity. Fuel-cell cars are "consistent with Maines environmental leadership, she said. We are a can-do state.
Among the hydrogen-powered vehicles taking part are the aforementioned Honda, Hyundai Tucson FCEV, Daimler F-Cell, Chevy Equinox, Kia Borrego FCEV, Nissan X-Trail and the Toyota FCHV Highlander. Note that the Chevy Equinox is the only American participant. Both the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation were sponsors of last year's much longer tour, but are absent from this one. Is the U.S. falling behind in the hydrogen race? How about falling off the map completely?
To be fair, hydrogen-fueled cars haven't taken off as battery vehicles have, and the simple explanation is a lack of infrastructure. There are only 65 hydrogen stations in North America, which is why all the cars on the Road Rally are relying on mobile refueling stations. At last year's rally, Roy Kim of the California Fuel Cell Partnership told me there were 61 stations, so we have a net gain of four.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to have his Hydrogen Highway in place, but the state's budget cuts have gotten in the way. The goal is to have 40 stations built in four years. Schwarzenegger showed up at a West Los Angeles stop on the Tour yesterday and a reporter asked him, "Are you satisfied with the number of hydrogen stations and vehicles we have today?"
The governator replied, "I wouldn't be here if I was. I'm hungry! I want more cars, more stations, and not just in California. I think Washington has to get with it...We will find the partners and we will build the stations. We always march forward."
The U.S. government is definitely marching backwards compared to the Europeans and Japanese, who offer large hydrogen subsidies. Given their realities, no Big Three automaker has committed to actually selling a fuel-cell car.
Daimler has benefited from those funds, and recently said it would be getting fuel-cell vehicles to customers as early as next year, with what it calls "marketability" as early as 2015. Its B-Class F-Cell, with a a stack that is 40% smaller (but 30% more powerful) than the one on the A-Class in the Tour, will appear at the end of 2009, with 250-mile range. Toyota, not to be outdone, has also pledged to have a commercially viable fuel-cell car on the road in late 2014.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.