Has hydrogen had its day?
I’ve been doing some research into the current stage of the hydrogen economy for Innovation Scout. Back in the late 90s and early 00s, hydrogen was the fuel of future – and on Teesside, where I was working in that period, it was held up as the saviour of the chemical industry. In fact, any project that might get in the way of the march of hydrogen was simply brushed aside (including one of mine, but I’m not bitter. Well, not much).
But then what? Some major motor manufacturers brought forward concept cars and there were a number of fuel cell systems installed in buildings and road signs. But not much more has progressed as technical and economic issues have hindered the commercialisation of the technology. President Obama’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu pulled the plug on hydrogen research and everybody seems to be focussed on the electric vehicle. Honda alone seems to have stuck with the hydrogen model with its FCX Clarity model (lauded by the Top Gear petrolheads) and there the open-source Riversimple hydrogen car was launched this summer. The latter will be leased in cities where the hydrogen infrastructure is provided by industrial gas giant BOC.
So there may be life in hydrogen yet, the only question is, with huge distribution networks required for both, can it compete with the upsurge in interest in electric vehicles? Looks like a classic battle along the lines of Betamax/VHS and, like that videotape war, it will probably won on entrepreneurial ability rather than technical prowess.
BTW, if you are interested in the current state of affairs in the electric car industry, check out this interesting BBC Radio 4 programme which includes an interview with Shai Agassi who is launching a distributed network of charging points and automatic battery exchanges.