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Commentary: Can fuel cell vehicles thrive?

I recently attended a gathering for alternative fuel vehicles, hosted by Sacramento Clean Cities Coalition (SCCC). The SCCC is part of a national network that supports the reduction of petroleum consumption in transportation.

 

The Toyota Miria is utilizes hydrogen fuel cell technology.
The Toyota Miria utilizes hydrogen fuel cell technology. All images © Bruce Aldrich/2017 (www.tahoetruckeeoutdoor.com)

Several alternative fuel vehicles were on display, including the Toyota fuel cell car called the Mirai. The Mirai is a good-looking midsize sedan fueled with compressed hydrogen. The compressed hydrogen passes over a fuel cell stack to produce electricity for the electric drive motor. The Mirai has a 300-mile range, takes only three minutes to fill, and drives like any other car. It’s perfect, but where do get hydrogen at 5,000 psi?

Chris White, with California Fuel Cell Partnership, said California currently had 25 hydrogen fueling stations. Twenty-five more stations are under construction. The current goal is to have 100 charging stations in California by 2020. This entire infrastructure is taxpayer supported, but the VW diesel lawsuit may provide funding in the future.

Judy Cunningham, fleet manager and Mirai representative, told me there are currently 1,000 Mirais on the road. The $57,000 dollar Mirai is typically leased for three years and includes free fuel, roadside service, and vehicle maintenance.

From my perspective, electric cars are becoming a viable alternative to internal combustion cars. Charging stations are being built along national highway corridors and battery range is increasing. The all-electric Chevy Bolt could be a game changer. It gets 238 miles per charge and costs less than $40,000 dollars. You can charge it at home or at hundreds of charging stations.

Electric cars are quickly gaining acceptance and will continue to flourish. The alternatives will just fade away. An electric car can be charged on house current if necessary. The backup plan for an empty fuel cell car is a tow to a fueling station.

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