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The fracking boom causes a second look at fuel cell cars

A fuel cell car refuels
A fuel cell car refuelsUnited States Navy

According to a February 21, 2014 article in Energy Trends Insider, the abundance of natural gas brought about by the fracking revolution is causing some to take a second look at fuel cell powered cars.

“In the mid-1990s, when fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) first appeared on my radar, they seemed like an ideal alternative to the gasoline engines in most passenger cars, offering zero tailpipe emissions and very low lifecycle, or well-to-wheels emissions of all types. Onboard hydrogen (H2) storage, whether as a gas, liquid or chemically adsorbed in another material, enabled higher energy density than then-current batteries, giving an FCV significantly greater potential range than a comparable electric vehicle (EV). And like electric cars, they also provided a useful pathway for bringing energy from a wide variety of sources into the transportation market, which was and still is dominated by petroleum products. Cost and technology readiness were the biggest barriers, along with non-existent retail H2 infrastructure.”

Most industrial hydrogen is generated by chemically reforming natural gas. In the early part of the current century, this looked to be economically problematic due to high natural gas prices. But thanks to the fracking boom, an abundance of natural gas has been discovered and is being exploited. This has caused prices of the product to plunge, keeping down electricity prices in countries like the United States that allow fracking. Since the price of oil and hence products like gasoline that is refined from oil remains high, natural gas is suddenly very competitive with regular gasoline.

Of course a fuel cell car would have to compete with electric vehicles, natural gas burning cars, hybrids, and conventional gasoline and diesel cars. The problem of building a hydrogen fuel distribution infrastructure still exists. But the day may have come in which fuel cell cars, some of which will be hybrids themselves, will be part of a mix of vehicles that run off of a variety of fuels.