Good news for Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ:BLDP). The company said Tuesday that it and Ford (NYSE:F) introduced the first production vehicles powered by Ballard fuel cells as part of a Department of Energy demonstration program. Investors bid up Ballard stock to $7.90, a 27% jump. My guess, though, is that the enthusiasm won't last.

Given the exorbitant price of oil, it's tempting to think that Ballard and its fuel cell brethren such as Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG) and FuelCellEnergy (NASDAQ:FCEL) are on the verge of landing big contracts to mass-produce fuel cells for a variety of applications. But that just isn't the case.

Fuel cell companies have been and will remain an unprofitable bunch. It's not that their day will never come; it very well may, but it still looks to be several years away. In Ballard's case, for instance, the vehicles unveiled Tuesday will be used to gather more information for continued analysis of the technology.

Even with oil at such high prices, the U.S.'s dependence on fossil fuel looks here to stay. This is evident in automakers' drive to create more efficient gasoline engines, cleaner diesels, and better hybrids. And the development of fossil fuel technology is not likely to stop with the latest generation of engines. TheWall Street Journal noted in a piece yesterday that Ford, General Motors (NYSE:GM), DaimlerChrysler (NYSE:DCX), and Toyota (NYSE:TM), among others, are researching a new system that would offer the fuel efficiency of diesel without the accompanying pollutants.

As far as fuel cell companies go, Ballard is not a bad choice, since its alliances with the major automakers lend some credibility to its hopes for the future. Unfortunately, though, hopes are mostly what investors have to go on for now.

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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.