Hydrogen Cars

Ever wonder why automobiles aren’t running on hydrogen fuel cells?

The answer is complex and also part of the long skein of sponsored fantasies about flying cars and, now, tunneling cars.

But the most important reason was explained recently by Richard Truett in Automotive News:

There is one part of the fuel cell that no automaker company ever talks about: high-volume production. That’s because most of the fuel cells built for automobiles today are hand-made by technicians.

photo of fuel cell technician

As of 2018, Toyota was building about seven Mirai fuel cell vehicles per day, all by hand.

The news Tuesday of General Motors’ deal with startup truckmaker Nikola provided no details about the technology GM plans to embrace to crank out fuel cell stacks quickly and with zero defects. The stack, you will recall, contains membranes and thin metal plates, and much like the cells in a battery pack, the more the cells are stacked in a fuel cell, the more electricity it will produce.

In manufacturing terms, this is as close to brain surgery as we’ve ever seen in a powertrain component. Not only is there no room for manufacturing tolerances — every internal component must fit and align perfectly for the cell to produce the correct amount of electricity safely — but the production site has to be free of dust, dirt and anything else that could contaminate a fuel cell membrane.

It is going to take a huge and economically viable fuel cell to produce enough electricity to move a fully loaded Nikola semitruck down the road at highway speeds. It won’t be economically efficient to assemble the stacks in these trucks by hand.

Automotive News, September 08, 2020

This, of course, also raises the question of what happens to fuel cell arrays in automotive collisions. The elementary facts there can’t be good, either.

You aren’t going to be seeing these things any time soon.

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