Toyota and Hyundai's Hydrogen Fuel Cell Battle Begins

Hyundai will offer the Tucson fuel cell hydrogen-powered electric vehicle to retail customers starting in the spring. Photo: Hyundai.  

At this year's Tokyo Auto Show, Toyota Motors (NYSE: TM  ) unveiled its new fuel-cell vehicle, or FCV, concept that it says will be available for sale in the U.S. in 2016. Not to be outdone, Hyundai Motors (NASDAQOTH: HYMTF  ) said that its Tucson crossover FCEV will go on sale in the U.S. next year. More importantly with this move, fuel-cell vehicles are that much closer to mass-market sales. So, what does this mean for battery electric vehicles, or BEVs?

2013 Tokyo Motor Show: Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) Concept 009. Photo: Toyota.

The green car of the future?
When it comes to "green" vehicles, Toyota is far from being inexperienced -- in 1997, it unveiled the Prius in Japan. Following that, and a successful 2000 U.S. debut, the Prius became the first mass-produced, mass-accepted hybrid vehicle. Now Toyota is at it again and is hoping its FCV will gain mass-market acceptance. And there are a number of reasons it could.

First, Toyota's FCV concept is roughly the size of its widely popular Camry and is estimated to get 310 miles per tank of hydrogen. Second, it can be refueled in minutes, produces zero emissions during operation, and, according to Toyota's deputy chief engineer, Yoshikazu Tanaka, its purpose is to "trigger the growth of fuel-cell vehicles to the level of the current hybrid, the Prius level." Moreover, thanks to a significant decrease in platinum -- down from 100 grams to about 30 grams -- the price for Toyota's FCV is estimated to be anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. While that's still expensive, it's a far cry less than previous FCVs -- plus, that's not any more expensive than Tesla Motors' Model S. 

That's great news for those wanting a fuel-cell car, but for those who'd prefer a fuel-cell SUV, Hyundai has you covered. As I previously wrote, Hyundai began its research and development into fuel-cell technology in 1998, and the result is the Hyundai Tucson ix35 hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle. In addition, the Tucson hydrogen can go 369 miles on one tank of hydrogen, has a top speed of 100 mph, and can go from 0 to 62 mph in 12.5 seconds. More importantly, Hyundai just delivered its first line-produced ix35 fuel-cell vehicles to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Like Toyota, Hyundai hasn't released a price for its FCEV, but it has said it'll be the first mass-market hydrogen vehicle available in the United States. Byung Ki Ahn, the general manager of fuel-cell research at Hyundai, told CNN, "Hyundai's target sale price for the next three to five years for the vehicle is $50,000."

BEVs face an uncertain future
Since 2010, there have been 63,309 BEVs sold in the United States, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. And as The New York Times put it, "Despite the popularity of electric cars from Tesla Motors in California, fully electric cars remain a niche market." Conversely, FCVs will also start out as only appealing to a niche market, in part because of the current lack of infrastructure, as well as high price points for FCVs. But the two types of vehicles will go head-to-head when it comes to the title of green car of the future.

July 19, 2012: Solar panels form part of the Renewable Hydrogen Fueling and Production Station on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. It is the only hydrogen station in Hawaii, and about 30 hydrogen-powered vehicles use the JBPHH station. Photo: Navy, via Wikimedia Commons.

However, as hydrogen-fueling stations are built, and the price point for FCVs decreases, the popularity of FCVs is likely to increase -- for example, thanks to the passing of Assembly Bill 8, California just committed to building 100 new hydrogen fueling stations. Further, the Department of Energy launched H2USA, a "public-private partnership with fuel cell electric vehicle original equipment manufacturers focused on advancing hydrogen infrastructure to support more transportation energy options for U.S. consumers." 

As if that's not enough, the U.S. government has halted loans for electric-vehicle development and reinstated funding for FCVs. Even more significant is that noted physicist and Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu reversed his critical stance regarding fuel cells and stated that fuel cells are "an important technology, and we want to continue to support the research." He continued:

Fuel cells can be incredibly reliable. There are many fuel cells in buses that have been running in buses for 10 years, rock solid. But our target is a $20,000 personal vehicle that can compete with a 45- or even 50-mile-per-gallon internal combustion car. 

Boiled down, what this means is BEVs -- while unlikely to completely disappear -- may forever be doomed to niche market appeal.

Vehicles of the future
There's no question that FCVs have significant barriers to overcome, the most significant being infrastructure. But demand is already fueling supply, and the infrastructure is starting to be built. Further, while FCVs will probably remain a niche market for a while, as technology progresses, their popularity is likely to increase. This is great news for auto manufactures that are planning to release their FCVs in the U.S. soon. Consequently, if you're looking for your next great auto stock for the future, Toyota or Hyundai may make a nice addition to your investing portfolio.

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Read/Post Comments (21) | Recommend This Article (9)

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  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 2:17 PM, rotorhead1871 wrote:

    battery cars are a JOKE.....fuel cells will rule.....

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 2:18 PM, unclamaui wrote:

    What I got for this...

    "While that's still expensive, "

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 3:56 PM, TZ138 wrote:

    I expect as batterty technology advances, and battery prices go down, The battery powered car will become just as viable as hydrogen, and natural gas... It would be easiest for a consumer to become totally self sufficient with the battery model, or with ethanol (see some old Mother Earth News pieces on their 1972 model pickup with still)... I expect home hydrogen generation would be much more expensive... The vast majority of vehicles seldome travel more than 100 miles from their home base, making ownership of a modestly priced BEV attractive if recharged at home, even using the grid, and a more traditionally fueled vehicle could be rented for road trips... I would buy a BEV if it were practical, and keep my old CVPI for road trips, as well as my pickup for hauling and towing things... For much of the public, cost effective means a $20,000 car with the cost of operation equivalet of a 30 mpg car with average maintainance costs... Right now, a small BEV's cost of operation is similar to a Chevrolet Suburban with the largest V-8, burning $20.00+ a gallon gasoline!!! This is due to the need for frequent battery replacement, battery price, and poor range, limiting the miles traveled... With hydrogen I do not know yet... I expect it would be rather straight forward to convert an existing vehicle to natural gas of LP gas... Farmers have been running LP gas conversions in their pickups for decades...

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 4:17 PM, NoiTall wrote:

    TZ138 - batteries have been around for quite a while also and only store 1/35th to 1/170th the energy of chemical fuel.

    Any consumer who lives in an apartment, or other setup such as renting a room most likely will find major problems to use electricity to refuel.

    I think many americans want a car that in an emergency will go at least 200 miles or more.

    Think of the hurricane in houston a few years back. some million or more people were told to evacuate.

    stopping to refuel when storm winds may already be affecting the power grid may not be possible.

    I think fuel cells will become much less expensive quickly in mass production. Batteries certainly did, but are still quite a large cost.

    Some massive petrochemical plant on the mississippi will start churning out membranes by the mile and prices will come down. Fuel cells have been around since early apollo missions, 50 years ago, so they are will understood.

    Right now, large stationary fuel cells such as bloom fuel cell stack, feed in nat gas which they turn directly to electricity with only water (and CO2 in this case as pure hydrogen not being used). They power large warehouses, data centers and walmart stores as primary or backup power.

    hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and on earth. we have 326 million trillion gallons of water on the planet, each of which has 2 out of their 3 atoms hydrogen.

    we might use on-demand hydrogen. energy is stored as reduced metal. Small amounts are fed into a small reactor that reacts the metal with water to evolve hydrogen. The metal becomes oxide, and can be recycled by inputting (alot) of energy, which is why it also outputs alot of energy. powdered aluminum is actually explosive and used as rocket fuel. magnesium can be formed in small particles such that it will spontaneously react with water to evolve hydrogen at temps below today's internal combustion engines.

    aluminum and magnesium both can be used for this. one company enginuity has a 220 lb system that feeds a magnesium spool of wire into a reactor. It only weighs slightly more than the same amount of gasoline for the energy produced

    http://www.emergingenergies.com/index.php?option=com_content...

    this would be ideal as most of the energy would be stored as metal and water separately. If your fuel tank gets punctured in an accident, water splashes out to put out fires in the gasoline cars involved in the accident.

    At a fillup, you'd get a new spool of aluminum or magnesium wire or pellets and refill your water tank, the refueling station would take your metal oxide and reduce it to metal again, either locally or at a consolidation location.

    The electricity for this could come from any source including renewables.

    I'm thinking we should find a way to use natgas first however. we have lots of it, and while it still emits CO2, it is much cleaner and fuel cell cars are twice as efficient as internal combustion engines.

    also fuel cells can be scaled up for industry's trucks such as long haul semis, and machines unlike battery technology.

    You could even capture the tailpipe water for reuse. many applications, such as down in mines, or inside warehouses on forklifts might require capturing the water instead of emitting it.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 5:12 PM, VegasSmitty wrote:

    The only thing slowing down the switch to fuel cells is the influence of big oil.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 5:15 PM, lm1b2 wrote:

    We would have,and should have had Hydrogen powered vehicles years ago if it wasn't for the oil industry,and there Lobbyist in Congress bribing our thieving representatives.To even consider any other fuel source is rediculous !

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 5:38 PM, TZ138 wrote:

    NoiTall- I understand your concerns for evacuation... Many who live in appartments and rooms do not have the resources to purchase a new car in the first place, as they tend to be young and just starting out in life... The BEV will likely never be ideal for everyone, at least in the near future... There is some exciting new battery technology under development that is much lighter weight, looked at for aviation use!!! I expect there will be advancements in range, cost, capacity, weight, and lifespan... As far as I am concerned, the BEV is the ideal commuter, grocery getter, and local runabout; not suitable for road trips, or evacuating from hurricanes... I expect there will be similar issues with hydrogen, at least in the near term... Yes, someone will mass produce the components when demand becomes more pronounced... The future will be in an efficient transportation system that is practical, and inexpensive... I expect road trips will be flown by many in the near future when roadable aircraft become more inexpensive, bringing us back to electric for local use... I can see possible roadable aircraft being powered with hydrogen...

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 5:48 PM, markf wrote:

    GM already has Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. They had a fleet of them in use in the New York Area that I know of for testing. I think it was maybe 4 years ago now I was at GM training just outside New York. People came to the training facility for data acquisition refueling etc. It was all going on behind closed doors but they did inform as much as I have stated and I did see the vehicles coming in and out of the facility. My opinion the only things holding back this technology is the oil companies and lack of the infrastructure needed to refuel these vehicles.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 6:03 PM, TZ138 wrote:

    NoiTall- The industrial applications, with the link you supplied are intriging... Once developed, this might get big, especially with big rigs... Perhaps also in aviation... I am not against using hydrogen, but simply not ready to give up on the battery, especially for short trips and commuting... The electric car model tends to make sense in commutes where slower speeds, and traffic backups are common... The car simply does not consume any fuel while stopped in a traffic jam, except for creachure comforts, and the vehicle's electronics... This is also the environment where the Prius excells... But then, we see quite a few of those being used on road trips, where they are no more practical than a traditional vehicle of the same type... Yes, I agree with natural gas; Pilot-Flying-j has installed a huge network nationally at their truck stops!!! Petro-T/A (Mariott) is planning likewise!!! So, natural gas is almost ready for prime time at least in trucking... The next few years are going to get interesting for alternative fuels...

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 6:08 PM, TZ138 wrote:

    markf- There was someone doing this in southern california also... I expect you are right about the infrastructure; as that is what actually takes a massive investment... Oil companies can try to buy up the patents, and block primer funding, but are much less capable at doing anything else to stop this...

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 6:10 PM, speculawyer wrote:

    The battle for who can lose more money on a hopeless technology.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 6:14 PM, speculawyer wrote:

    These oil company conspiracies are hilarious. The oil companies LOVE fuel cell cars and have dumped a lot of money into helping them. Fuel cell cars keep the "filling-station" business model alive and they can create hydrogen by steam-reforming natural gas. If there is a conspiracy theory, it is that oil companies PUSHED fuel cell cars as an alternative to electric cars. "Uh, don't pass laws requiring electric cars . . . we'll have fuel cell cars real soon now. No, really!" But the fuel cell cars never got cheap enough.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 7:53 PM, DWW12 wrote:

    I can't believe all these post saying water is a fuel source. Water is the product. You can't use water to fuel anything. If it does not catch fire or blow up when ignited it is not a fuel. Hydrogen is a fuel, nat gas is a fuel, gasoline is a fuel. Water is a liw energy state product. 95% of all industrial hydrogen comes from stripping hydrogen off of fossil fuels, like natural gas. That is because it is infinitely cheaper than electrolysis, (the method theses articles would have you believe is being used). When stripping hydrogen of fossil fuels the carbon is usually dumped into the atmosphere, so all you are doing is shifting the "dirty" part from the car to the hydrogen plant. Hydrogen is still 3x the cost per mile on fuel vs battery electric. There is no chance of hfcv being renewable because electrolysis is so inefficient, just charge a battery, or use nat gas in a cng vehicle. What is the point of hfcv?

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 8:10 PM, DWW12 wrote:

    Just for reference it costs $1.20 to charge my Volt at home. That charge gets 38 miles. That is 1/3 the cost vs using gas. If it costs $3.00 for hydrogen to go 35 miles, sourced fom nat gas, the cheapest possible source, what is the point? That is 3x battery electric and the same as gasoline. CNG is the only thing that comes close on a cost/mile basis. Hydrogen fuel cell is a giant lie.

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 8:18 PM, Seer2012 wrote:

    Hydrogen technologies are evolving and there are breakthroughs in production and fuel cell advances. Here are a couple interesting articles I found recently.

    http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2013/04/040413-cals-hydrog...

    http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/hydrogen-fuel-cell-catalys...

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 9:37 PM, DWW12 wrote:

    So I checked on the solar to hydrogen site in Hawaii referenced. For 13 months it produced 269MWh and used that energy to make 1,030kg of hydrogen. From GM's site their FCV needs 4kg of hydrogen to go 300 miles. That would be 103,000 miles worth of hydrogen. If you just used the electricity to charge a Model S (95kwh to charge 85kwh battery for 240 miles) you get 680,000 miles, more than 6 TIMES as many miles. If you used the electricity to charge a Volt at 12.5kwh to get 38 miles you would go 817,000 miles, more than 8 TIMES as far. What is the point of FCV?

  • Report this Comment On November 24, 2013, at 9:47 PM, DWW12 wrote:

    Oops, that is 77,250 miles for HFC. 8.8 times less than Model S, 10 times less than Volt.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2013, at 12:21 AM, AdvanderMeer wrote:

    Hyundai was trying to sell this car in Europe for about €125k, but that may have been incl. +/- 20% salestax, so let's just leave it at $125k. If Hyundai wants to sell it at $50k, they will have to be able to more than half the costs on that car 3-4 years.

    Add to this misery the fact that hydrogen fueling stations are VERY expensive and will only pop up in certain areas where heavily subsidized sales of this car will take place.

    So, no hydrogen will not threathen BEV anytime soon and I even haven't touched the reason why hydrogen cars (or better hydrogen production) are not efficient (best case) or green (worst case).

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2013, at 1:05 AM, TZ138 wrote:

    DWW12- I was of the same opinion on hydrogen; as it simply hasn't worked out some of the issues yet... I don't know that much about the current hydrogen scene... Perhaps someday it will come to maturity... This is why I would be interested in an inexpensive BEV, if it becomes cost effective, for a daily driver; while keeping existing type vehicles, or similar, for road trips, etc...

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2013, at 7:28 AM, Johncyc wrote:

    I seriously doubt there is enough platinum in the world to make a dent on the total number of cars. 30 grams is just under one troy ounce. Only 3.6 million oz of Platinum are produced per year. They are used in other applications as well. FCV's would put intense pressure on the price of Platinum at some point and limit the growth. FCV will never replace ICEV. They make more than 3.6 million cars in the world.

    Battery powered vehicles allow the home owner to be their own refilling station. FCV's are still expensive to operate. They won't be filling your tank cheaply. So according to this article you pay close to a BEV price but you then pay for the Hydrogen refills as well which we won't know the cost. FCV will definitely be a niche market.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2013, at 8:35 AM, rhyder8558 wrote:

    Whoa!! Hold on for a minute. There is a MAJOR problem here EVERYONE seems to be missing. H20 is a GREENHOUSE GAS.!!!The combustion of Hydrogen and Oxygen create water vapor. Water vapor is probably the worst greenhouse gas that we can have.

    Scientists have proposed using water vapor to heat the planet Mars until it could sustain its own atmosphere. They proposed water vapor because it is the most potent greenhouse gas that exists.

    I've heard people call this a no pollution solution. Sorry but pollution is anything that there is too much of. When the internal combustion engine was introduced, It was haled as the technology that would bring about the end of pollution. What was that pollution. Manure. Horse manure to be specific. That's what fuel cells technology is.

    I'm surprised that no one sees the bigger picture here. One or two cars putting around burning hydrogen seems innocuous enough, but 250 million vehicles puffing out a greenhouse gas would be exponentially worse.

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