Fuel cell vehicles (FCV) are in the news again: Ford, Renault-Nissan, and Daimler announced in March of 2013 that they will jointly develop technology to make “affordable, mass-market” fuel cell vehicles by 2017.
Topping it off, Vancouver’s Ballard fuel cell company announced that they contracted with Volkswagen for up to $ 100 million in fuel cell development and engineering.
All this comes at the time when “President Barack Obama will ask the US Congress to consider using $2 billion out of federal [oil & gas] drilling revenues for clean energy research”.
More from the official statement: “During a visit to Argonne National Laboratory, Obama will call for a $2 billion "energy security trust fund" to be used for researching ways to improve automobile efficiency and develop new clean energy technologies”
“In his weekly speech at the White House, Barack Obama said that shifting the US' automotive industry off oil will help avoid new peaks in gasoline prices”.
"Let's take some of our oil and gas revenues from public lands and put it towards research that will benefit the public so we can support American ingenuity without adding a dime to our deficit," Obama said. "Let's set up an Energy Security Trust that helps us free our families and our businesses from painful spikes in gas once and for all."
“This idea...is not just about saving money. It’s also about saving the environment... but also about national security. This is not a Democratic idea or a Republican idea, it’s just a smart idea.” —President Obama
And from an industry analyst this: ''Public confidence (in battery-electric vehicles BEV) has really fallen since its peak at the Paris show in 2010, when we only talked electric.''
Now, Daimler and most others are convinced that fuel cell cars now offer ''the greatest potential for emission-free driving'', according to Mercedes-Benz development chief Dr Thomas.
What is the Vancouver-Ballard connection, you may ask? — That is where it all started — anew.
Before recounting the early history of the fuel cell in a small series of articles, let us remember that Harold Ballard started the fuel cell industry in 1983 in Vancouver.
Daimler-Benz (at the time), and soon Ford, invested in Ballard’s young company.
After developing fuel cell stacks for a number of manufacturers, and first installing them in buses, where the large, early power units found abundant space, the auto industry started to see the potential of the fuel cell as a power source; Now, most of the world’s car-makers are testing fuel cell vehicles.
On “the road to alternative transportation”, General Motors of Canada is evaluating a test fleet of 100 Chevy Equinoxes; they were developed and produced in Oshawa, Ontario. — Ford and Daimler also have large test fleets in Canada and elsewhere.
However, before we examine FCVs, let us explore how the fuel cell came to be….