Several Major Auto Manufacturers are Developing Hydrogen-Fueled Vehicles
Hydrogen-powered vehicles, once a highly ridiculed technology explored and subsequently abandoned by automakers, may make a resurgence in the coming years. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 includes key tax breaks and other incentives for “clean fuels” and vehicles that use them that could catalyze a new era of research and development.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles are not a new technology. In fact, the use of hydrogen as fuel for an engine was first used in 1806 by a Swiss engineer who mixed the fuel with oxygen to power an internal combustion engine. Since its beginnings, there have been several eras of development. Arguably, the most impactful development in hydrogen cars came in 1889 when the first hydrogen fuel cell was invented. Though primitive to today’s hydrogen fuel cells, this step forever shaped future R&D efforts.
In a traditional gasoline-powered engine, fuel is combined with oxygen in a combustion chamber and is ignited by a spark. That controlled explosion creates the energy that is transferred via the transmission to the wheels of a car. In a hydrogen-powered car, a fuel cell can be though of as the combustion chamber. Within a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined, the chemical reaction of which creates electricity that is used to power an electric motor that then transfers that energy to the wheels. Unlike common EVs, hydrogen cars are refuled similarly to gas-powered cars, and contain no battery storage.
In the modern era, hydrogen cars have yet to catch on in any significant way. While they do exist, the lackluster market for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), high costs for fuel cells, and a lack of existing infrastructure needed for their commercial feasibility, and the rise of battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs) led automakers with interests in hydrogen to mostly abandon the technology.
However, in recent years, hydrogen has reentered the R&D departments of some auto and engine manufacturers. Companies such as Bosch, BMW, Toyota, Hyundai and Cummins all currently have investments in FCEVs. The investments are not insignificant; Bosch has reportedly spent $200 million to develop and manufacture hydrogen fuel cells in South Carolina, Cummins is in the testing phase of two brand new hydrogen-powered motors, and BMW is currently producing hydrogen fuel cells to be used in their vehicles.
The federal government is interested in the technology as well, as illustrated in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.The fresh piece of legislation contains several tax credits and economic incentives related to hydrogen energy comprehensively. That is, there are incentives for the development of hydrogen as an energy source, as well as credits for the production and purchase of “clean vehicles” and alternative fuels, of which hydrogen is included. In all, the law is expected to boost the development of hydrogen on all fronts.
Discussion and attitudes toward hydrogen have shifted dramatically in the last decade. Now, with support and interest from industry and government, more opportunities, and potentially challenges, with hydrogen are expected.
For those interested in hydrogen energy, we at the Center for Energy Policy & Management warmly welcome you to join us on October 4th for our event Harnessing Hydrogen: Exploring Local & Regional Opportunities in Appalachia, which is free and open to all! For more information and to register for the event, please click here!