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First Commercially Available Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Hit the Street

December 10, 2014 - 12:25pm

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A fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) at a fueling station in California. New Energy Department reports signal rapid growth in America’s fuel cell and hydrogen industry as FCEVs are introduced to the market. | Energy Department photo

A fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) at a fueling station in California. New Energy Department reports signal rapid growth in America’s fuel cell and hydrogen industry as FCEVs are introduced to the market. | Energy Department photo

Fuel cell electric vehicles are now available in the United States!  Offering completely zero emissions, these passenger vehicles have the driving range, ease of refueling, and performance of today’s gasoline vehicle. Originally used for space applications, fuel cells work like batteries, but they do not run down or need recharging. They produce electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied.  Fuel cells produce electrical power without any combustion or carbon emissions and operate on fuels like hydrogen, natural gas, and propane.  

The Department of Energy’s fuel cell program began in the 1970s after the first oil embargo, when a group of researchers met at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Eventually, national lab researchers developed breakthrough methods of fabricating fuel cell electrodes that spurred worldwide research and development on proton-exchange-membrane (so called PEM) fuel cells.

Forty years later we see the impact of those early pioneers as car makers around the world develop fuel cell cars.  Hyundai recently started leasing their FCEV and just last month Toyota announced FCEVs for sale, right on track with the Energy Department’s original plans for R&D resulting in commercial decisions being made in the 2015 timeframe. The Energy Department also plans a $5.5 million project to collect real world data from the operation of next generation FCEVs from several carmakers including Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Daimler, Honda, and GM.

“Car companies are innovating and providing options to consumers that address the President’s commitment to developing a transportation sector that minimizes harmful emissions without compromising vehicle performance,” said Assistant Secretary Dr. David Danielson. “For the first time, American people will be able to purchase a fuel cell electric vehicle, which operates on hydrogen and emits only water from its tailpipe.” 

Energy Department funded research has cut the cost of automotive fuel cells in half since 2006 and reduced the amount of costly platinum catalyst by a factor of five. Innovative fuel cell catalysts developed by Brookhaven National Lab are now being licensed by commercial catalyst suppliers and could be used by automakers in the future for their FCEVs.  Energy Department-funded efforts have resulted in 500 patents, 45 commercial technologies in the market, and 65 technologies that are projected to be commercialized within three to five years.

In addition, the Energy Department recently authored new reports that signal incredible growth in America’s fuel cell and hydrogen industry.

The 2013 Fuel Cell Technologies Market Report indicates the number of fuel cell units shipped worldwide has skyrocketed to more than 35,000, marking a nearly 30% increase in global fuel cell shipments and a more than 60% increase in North American systems shipped in the last year.

The States of the States, Fuel Cells in America 2014 report shows California, Connecticut, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina are leading the way when it comes to deploying fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have also made tremendous strides in advancing fuel cell technologies.

Earlier this month, the Energy Department posted the 2014 edition of its annual Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program Annual Progress Report—a nearly 1,000-page document summarizing the reports provided each year by projects funded by DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program.

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