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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
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We have wafted your way recently a good many words about electric vehicles. Fossil-fueled vehicles, we think, are going to die a slow but inevitable death. You will, one day, drive an electric car to work, where you will hear electric trucks humming around your mill. OK, not tomorrow; but some day.

But there is still another type of non-fossil-fueled vehicle coming down the pike. It will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells (HFCs), which serve to run electric engines--think no batteries--and emit nothing but a little water vapor. (Hydrogen can also be burned in an internal combustion engine, from which it does emit some NOx, but not the other pollutants of gasoline and diesel fuel.)

According to Wikipedia, hydrogen, as atomic H, is the most abundant chemical element in the universe--think oceans of H2O--making up 75% of normal matter by mass and more than 90% by number of atoms. The difficulty, and the expensive part, is extracting it from the substances in which it is bound up. But the scientists are working on it.

We didn't know Ford Motor Company needed money, but it recently received from the US Department of Energy about $6 million in funding for research into hydrogen fuel cell projects. According to the report, Ford will use the money to develop a uniquely American fuel-cell catalyst production process.

We were surprised to learn that, despite a very limited presence in vehicles already on the road, DOE reports that the hydrogen fuel cell industry grew to $2.2 billion in sales in 2014, up from $1.3 billion in 2013.

Ford said it has been working on HFC vehicles for more than a decade. The company participated in a DOE-funded project in 2005-2009 in which a fleet of Ford Focus FCVs were tested "in real world conditions." Ford acknowledges the challenges FCVs face, including the current cost and durability of the fuel cell system, as well as producing and distributing hydrogen fuel, and developing the infrastructure to deliver it to drivers. Presently, there are only a handful of hydrogen recharging stations and most of them are in California. But more are planned for the future.

Ford is not the only automaker working on FCVs. In addition to the Ford cars, other vehicles that have already been produced include the Honda FCX Clarity, the Hyundai ix35 FCEV and the Toyota Mirai autos. No trucks yet, as far as we know. We'll let you know when we hear. Stay tuned!

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.


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