There are those who are unhappy with the creeping pace of electric vehicle battery improvements and believe that hydrogen is the answer. One prominent example is the guys on Top Gear, who are no fans of electric cars and have placed their bets on hydrogen fuel cells as the solution for future power storage. However, a new report from Pike Research indicates that the hydrogen future may be more distant than anticipated.

Previous studies by Pike had expected hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicles to take a central role by the end of this decade, with cumulative sales of 2.8 million FCEVs bringing with them $28.9 billion in revenues. Now, Pike has cut those predictions sharply. The newest forecast for 2020 is for one million hydrogen FCEVs with revenues trimmed to $16.9 billion.

The biggest reason for the change in the forecast is that the global economic downtown has slowed government investments in fuel cell technology. Pike estimates that getting these systems to consumers will take longer without that injection of funds, and the vehicles will remain more expensive for a longer period.


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  • 87 Comments
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      Shocking! The laws of physics and thermodynamics will not be violated. Who would have thunk?
        DaveMart
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Perhaps you would explain what laws of physics or thermodynamics they violate, as I am not aware of them. Neither apparently are the many hydrogen fuel cell cars running around. Perhaps you mean that you imagine that they will always remain more expensive either to build or fuel than battery cars. Even if that were true, it does not constitute 'violating a law of physics or thermodynamics'. Please get your terms right. Your misuse of them is a sign of sloppy thinking.
          ufgrat
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Making ("liberating") H2 (without any pesky O or C molecules attached) requires energy. That energy must come from somewhere. Without any assistance in the process, you will lose energy creating H2. If you're going to lose energy anyway, why put it into an extremely volatile, difficult to store compound? Why not, oh, I dunno... charge a battery with that electricity? The race becomes one of energy density and charge/discharge rates vs. H2 production. Whichever becomes efficient enough for day-to-day use (and commercially available) first will win.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          ufgrat: Without getting into the entirely separate argument you are making it is perfectly clear that fuel cells in no way violate any 'laws of physics or thermodynamics' which is what I objected to in the original post.
      amtoro
      • 3 Years Ago
      Whaaat? but if our parents were told in the 70's that affordable, mass produced Fuel Cell vehicles were just 15 years away!... Shocking! [ironic]
      Dave D
      • 3 Years Ago
      Another Pike study...another senseless killing of "digital trees" to even posts this story. LOL
      Maynex
      • 2 Years Ago
      Maynex H2-Flex is a low-cost fuel-cell that can be attached to any vehicle on the road today in less than 10 minutes! With this system, a car can go 1000 miles and recharge (refuel) in a minute!
      Maynex
      • 2 Years Ago
      Please support alternatives to oil. Learn more @ http://t.co/sy2SHWW. We must move from oil before oil move from us! Re-tweet to all
      Letstakeawalk
      • 3 Years Ago
      So, it finally took this long for the actual meaning of the recent Pike Analysis to sink in? The current report was a downgrade from the last one, so there's no real surprise here, at least to those of us who actually read the report as opposed to just reacting to it. "Doug Pike makes these sort of forecasts all the time. How does this compare to previous predictions? October 09 2011 at 11:31 AM " "Letstakeawalk They've actually reduced their estimates... You'd think people here would be ecstatic over that. "While these latest figures represent a downgrade from Pike Research's previous FCV forecasts, published in the first quarter of 2010..." October 09 2011 at 1:45 PM" http://green.autoblog.com/2011/10/08/more-than-1-million-fuel-cell-vehicles-will-be-sold-by-2020/ But hey, why not milk the story for all it's worth, right?
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        do you still believe in HFC cars? Carlos Ghosn said only a few days ago that they are working hard on making them happen.
          ufgrat
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          High Fructose Corn syrup cars? Now, there's a possibility....
          Letstakeawalk
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          "do you still believe in HFC cars?" Yes, I still believe that HFCVs will be a part of the automobile market, alongside BEVs and PHEvs. Predictions of market penetration are interesting to read, and while these predictions might be lower than previous, they still indicate that there will be a substantial market for HFCVs. Not only Carlos Ghosn, but many major (and minor - Riversimple) automakers are actively developing HFCVs for commercial introduction in several years' time.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          Going along with ufgrat's train of thought: "Sugar-powered fuel cells are totally sweet" http://arstechnica.com/old/content/2007/03/sugar-powered-fuel-cells-are-totally-sweet.ars
      PR
      • 3 Years Ago
      This reminds me of BYD blaming the US infrastructure for their failure to bring the E6 to market. Just like BYD's E6, the problem is the product. (And for the record, I think there are a few limited situations where fuel cells are the very best solution -- even better than batteries, like in forklifts and other similar applications. So I'd really like to see good fuel cells be developed.)
      Arun Murali
      • 3 Years Ago
      Considering that the first commercially affordable(non experimental) FCV is likely to come in 2015-2016 possibly from Nissan or from Mercedes. I see that by 2018-2019 they might have sold about 20,000 cars even if the larger fan base of FCV's jump in on the opportunity. So by the end of 2020 there will be less than about 100,000 FCV cars on the road around the world. My prediction is that SUV's rather than small cars will sell well in the FCV/plugin-FCV world. On the other hand, larger vehicles like long distance government(or large organization) operated buses and short distance heavy fleet trucks have much higher adoption chance. From the looks of the market right now, short distance city buses are pretty much going to be gobbled by the EV segment, with really fast charging capabilities. Even in campus specialty trucks will probably go the EV way(like trucks to move things inside a dock or small component mover trucks in large factories or trucks that tow your Jumbo Jet), cause EV's are simpler and custom designs are way cheaper way for these large organizations to cut down CO2. I cant see 900,000 of those long distance buses and short distance trucks on road around the world by 2020. I think the number might again be close to about 20-30k of them. So, 1 million is too high a prediction again. Even 200k might be an overestimation.
      Larz Larzen
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's a matter of which technology gets there first, and has the infrastructure to support it. Every one of these technologies has drawbacks to overcome - but it is not a matter of 'if', but 'when'. I think we will have choices when they all develop. It won't be just one tech. If there is a winner, it will be the one that can be produced at an economy of scale.
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Larz Larzen
        It can be a question of 'if'. If one technology pretty much totally dominates another then that technology wins. The losing technology sometimes goes away or finds niche applications. Internal combustion engines pretty much killed EVs for a century. But the tide is turning a bit now due to global oil depletion and improved Li-Ion battery technology.
          Joeviocoe
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Spec, No technological breakthroughs will help. They already have the technology. The problem is economics. And economic problems CAN be solved, but will never be solved as long as there are better alternatives. Hydrogen is a solution looking for a problem. BEVs are a better solution for the light duty fleet, and NGVs are a better solution for the heavy duty fleet.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          What do audio enthusiasts spend more money per unit on, iPods or record players? Vinyl has been obsoleted several different times, yet somehow people are still willing to pay absurd amounts of money for record players. So which tech won, iPods or record players? I'd be willing to admit that they don't even compete, that they're aimed at two entirely different markets, with buyers that have the same ultimate goal of listening to music. Then there's the R2R guys, cassette guys, and the DAT guys, and the CD/SACD/DVDA/BD guys...
          JP
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          LTAW, iPods obviously won. Just because there is a niche group of Luddites holding onto the past doesn't mean vinyl is still a real market.
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Like I said, losing technology often finds niche applications & fans. But I'd sure rather have Apple shares for the iPod and iTunes than . . . I can't even name a turntable company to own shares in. Who knows . . . unforeseen breakthroughs do happen and fuel cells could have some. But right now they are not market ready. The 2015 date thrown around these days indicates they are just not market ready. If they were ready, they could have them out by 2013. They are just hoping some breakthroughs happen between now and 2015. If they don't, that date will get pushed back again. (as it has many times already).
      Breconeer
      • 3 Years Ago
      So within 18 months, Pike have trimmed their 2020 projection from 2.8m to 1m. That doesn't say much for the reliability of their last projection - why should this one be taken as any more reliable? Will this too be trimmed back another 64% in 18 months (to say 0.35m?) . I don't know who coughs up the money to pay Pike for their research, but I'm glad it's not me. Pike reports seem to become obsolete very quickly.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Breconeer
        Pike reports are a joke. Take 1 year of data and extrapolate it to wherever you like.... and there's your pike research report. I wish i could get paid to generate data from thin air all day.
          Chris M
          • 3 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Makes you wonder how they got into that business in the first place. You'd think that they'd have to at least start with some good predictions and not be too far off. I suspect that they're still overly optimistic about H2-FCVs.
      goodoldgorr
      • 3 Years Ago
      If they cut subsidies from the state then we will see hydrogen sooner because they will want to collect some money out of it and the money will not be subsidies but good old honest sale. Ordinary lithium-ion batteries are not enouph, so it will be hydrogen fuelcells and/or or or solid-state batteries. I won't buy ordinary lithium-ion battery and i live someplace that it's winter 5-6 months a year so that's an obvious choice. Only solid-state batteries can cope with range, comfort, easy recharges and winter where a lot of heat is needed. Honda should start an hydrogen infrastructure in california and start selling fuelcell cars and suvs. It will sale like mad don't worry and stop subsidies on all electric gizmos, let the market decide.
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Li-Ion batteries are certainly less than optimal. But they are the best alternative to gasoline/diesel that we have at the moment. They are expensive and that limits their range (we can build 300 mile range EVs, they are just ridiculously expensive). They also take time to charge. But for the vast majority of ordinary driving, they can handle the job. But they certainly can't handle everything and for the rest we can still use gas/diesel. PHEV hybrids, hybrids, etc. Hydrogen will find niche applications but I just don't see it becoming huge even if they manage to get the price of a hydrogen car down to the price of an EV. Why? Because hydrogen is not as cheap & easy as electricity. EVs can get away with being more expensive than gas cars because they have the advantage of a lower fuel price that neutralizes the higher up-front cost. Hydrogen isn't much less expensive than gasoline.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          @Spec: That is an entirely reasonable POV, and one that I may differ from but can in no way object to. Personally, I dunno, but quite fancy a hydrogen/methanol fuel cell battery hybrid.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          "Hydrogen will find niche applications but I just don't see it becoming huge even if they manage to get the price of a hydrogen car down to the price of an EV. " I too can understand and accept this opinion, even though I disagree about the growth potential for HFCVs. It's those who think that HFCVs are impossible, and those who are unwilling to admit that there are applications in which HFCVs are indeed practical and preferable to ICEs, that I have a problem with.
          Joeviocoe
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          "It's those who think that HFCVs are impossible, and those who are unwilling to admit that there are applications in which HFCVs are indeed practical and preferable to ICEs, that I have a problem with." So you don't have a problem with me? Yay! ---- DaveMartin, I would fancy a methanol fuel cell too.
        amtoro
        • 3 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Talking about winter, ask the scandinavians; in their cities, electric vehicles have been a very common sight for decades. And their winters are longer than 4-5 months....
      Smith Jim
      • 3 Years Ago
      How many times do we need to go over this. Virtually all commercially available hydrogen comes from natural gas. In the process all the carbon in the natural gas is converted to CO2 and released to the atmosphere. Some people believe hydrogen will become a viable green alternative fuel if it's produced by electrolysis from carbon-free sources of electrical energy. It's never going to happen. http://www.physorg.com/news85074285.html
        Larz Larzen
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Smith Jim
        There are other, cheaper ways in development.
          Maynex
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Larz Larzen
          Ture, Maynex H2-Flex dirty water to gas fuel cell is low-cost system.
        DaveMart
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Smith Jim
        Because you have 'gone over it' does not mean that your wild assumptions should be accepted. There are a ton of other possible ways of producing hydrogen. You are talking crystal balls as usual.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Perhaps your rather high bar that the definition of 'a significant quantity of hydrogen being produced from other than natural gas' should be taken more seriously on the day when less than 20% of US electricity is produced from other than fossil fuels.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          "I'd wager that hydrogen will never be produced in significant quantities from any source other than natural gas." I'll take that wager. Define "significant quantities" and "never".
          Smith Jim
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Letstakeawalk, I'll define a significant quantity as 20% of the amount of hydrogen produced from natural gas. I'll define never to be as long as you want it to be but it needs to be within our lifetime.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          PR The point I was making was that they are to make hydrogen by electrolysis using geothermal energy ie not natural gas. How they later used this is wholly irrelevant to the present discussion, although the production of DME is interesting in itself. It would seem conceivable that hydrogen could be made on a very large scale indeed using geothermal power, although personally I would prefer to use nuclear power. There is no problem with using electricity more directly to charge a battery when appropriate, but sometimes the extra energy density of hydrogen is useful.
          Smith Jim
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Ufgrat says it very well (and I'm not sure why he disagrees with me. Perhaps it's because he thinks carbon capture will someday be viable) Hydrogen is an energy carrier NOT an energy source. It's like charging a battery. It takes energy to break the chemical bonds to make hydrogen from water and you can't get more energy out than you put in. In fact, you always get less energy out than you put in. It does not matter if this energy comes from the heat of a nuclear reactor as some have suggested. Waste heat can't be used to produce hydrogen because it's just not hot enough. I don't have a crystal ball but I'd wager that hydrogen will never be produced in significant quantities from any source other than natural gas.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Hmm, senile moment. The thought I was trying to express is that it is far from clear that electricity production can move largely away from fossil fuels if you don't fancy nuclear, so hydrogen production is far from unique.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          I wouldn't mind so much some of the assumptions about future progress of technology made if they were even talking about comparable technologies. They are not. As just about every car maker knows, and are doing their development to match, you can use battery cars for small/short range cars but fuel cells have a lot more potential for heavier/more long rang vehicles. When you have a fundamentally different performance envelope, it makes no sense to try to argue that one is more efficient in some theoretical way than the other. Even using relatively unfavourable assumptions the efficiency of a hydrogen supply chain and use is around the same as present petrol use and the fuel cost no greater per mile. Since that can give us radically better capabilities than anything we are remotely close to doing with batteries then the two technologies are not in competition. If batteries work for your application, fine. If not there is nothing wrong with using fuel cells.
          PR
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          The third article you linked to about H2 from artificial photosynthesis was another dream piece. They only have half the process lab'ed, and they don't even have a small scale working model yet. It's on par with this lab exercise: http://gas2.org/2011/10/26/energy-storage-%E2%80%9Cmembrane%E2%80%9D-cheaper-than-batteries-and-a-lot-more-effective/ "There is a lot of time and money going into battery research these days, as well as supercapacitors, in an effort to increase electric vehicle range and charging efficiency. But researchers from the National University of Singapore have developed an energy storage membrane that is way cheaper, and a lot more effective than advanced batteries. Insane In The (Energy) Membrane The researchers, led by Dr. Xie Xian, have developed a polystyrene-based polymer membrane made from organic waste materials. When placed between two graphite plates and charged, the membrane can store a charge at 0.2 farads per centimeter, which is way, way more than the current upper limit of capacitors of 1 microfarad (there are 1,000,000 microfarads in a single farad.) Even more importantly, this membrane reduces the costs of energy storage from about $7 per farad to just $0.62 per farad. That’s 90% cheaper, which would be a huge development for EV’s. And being that the membrane is supposedly made from organic waste, and there is no mention of exotic metals, we could eliminate a lot of the supply chain issues that come with electric vehicles. Almost sounds too good to be true, but this is another potentially game-changing development in the electric vehicle world. Will batteries one day be replaced by electricity-storing membranes? It’d make for some interesting garage talk." So if you want to swap dreamy could-be studies, there are just as many dream solutions that are still just lab experiments in the EV field as there are in the H2 field. If not more.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          "I'll define a significant quantity as 20% of the amount of hydrogen produced from natural gas." OK. Approximately 38% of current US hydrogen production is "Byproduct hydrogen", resulting as a byproduct of other chemical processes.
          PR
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          DaveMart - There are two problems with producing H2 from the geothermal study that you linked to. The first problem is that this study IS NOT about producing H2, it is a proposal to produce DME fuel. The H2 will be CONSUMED in the process. The second problem is that they ARE NOT using geothermal energy to generate the H2, they are using the geothermal energy to produce electricity, which is then used to produce H2 via electrolysis: "Production process is as follows: 1) The CO2 gas is captured from the exhaust gas of the ELKEM ferrosilicon plant 2) The H2 gas is generated from water by electrolysis 3) Methanol is produced by synthesis from CO2 and H2 4) DME is produced from methanol as an alternative fuel" If you get rid of all of these steps, including the electrolysis step to generate the H2, you could power an EV to go much further than a fuel cell vehicle or a DME burning vehicle, just by taking the electricity generated for electrolysis and using it to charge EV's. In fact, the study specifically states that the step to generate H2 via electrolysis is a very large hurtle to the entire enterprise: "Hydrogen generation cost is very large and has a substantial impact on the project economics since it requires many electrolysers for a plant of this size and electricity consumption is very large." Oh, and did I mention that this process you linked to doesn't even result in a single atom of H2 being left from the geothermal-to-DME process to ever be used in a fuel cell? Look, I think there are times and places for fuel cells. And people will certainly buy stuff that is not the most energy efficient and least expensive and aren't the lowest footprint. I get that. But this is yet another example of the laws of physics being utterly and totally against H2.
          ufgrat
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Yes, but none of them violate the laws of thermodynamics-- You can't get more energy out of hydrogen production than you put into it-- neither can you break even. You will lose energy in the process. As yet, we don't have an efficient "cheat" (microbes running off of sunlight and sugar, for instance) to make production of H2 viable, so hydrogen remains a mildly inefficient (in terms of "charging") battery-- why spend the energy to produce hydrogen when you can spend the energy to charge a battery, and not have the losses associated with changing from "energy" to "hydrogen" and back to "electricity". Natual gas is an option, but you need to figure out how to capture (and what to do with) the CO2 produced. The good news is, it's not like you're burning the natural gas to produce H2, so it's a controlled (in theory) environment, making capture of by-products significantly easier-- venting to the atmosphere would be idiotic. Both of you appear to be making wild assumptions.
          PR
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          The RED approach to producing H2 is just as problematic, and it's just in the lab testing stage. For it to scale, you would need large amounts of sea water, fresh water, and waste water all in the same location. That sounds simple — just find a large city on the ocean with a major fresh water river and use their waste water. In reality it isn’t that simple. The city’s waste water is (hopefully) sequestered away from the fresh river water and sea water in waste water treatment facilities. That means you would have to divert the river water to the waste water treatment facility before the waste water was treated. The sea water would actually need to be pumped to the waste water facility from a number of miles away from the river delta, because the river itself dilutes the salinity of the surrounding sea water. That requires more energy. Scaling this larger and larger would be problematic. Once the waste water, sea water, and fresh water were all brought together and the hydrogen is generated, the whole mess would still need to be put through the waste water treatment facility. But now the volume of water requiring treatment would be much larger, and I’ve never heard of a salt-water based waste treatment facility. They are all fresh water. That would be an additional hurdle. The energy required to treat this much larger waste water would be larger too. Finally, they would have to figure out how to keep the entire system clean. This would be no small task with farm runoff in the “fresh” water, salt in the sea water, and waste in the waste water. Add the by-products of the bacteria itself doing the bio-degrading in the MEC, and you’ve got quite the soup to stop from building up in your equipment. I’m going to reserve full judgment until something like a small scale test facility is built that might prove that it can generate hydrogen cheaper than natural gas reformation. But it would have to beat out natural gas reformation in price and construction cost and scalability for it to actually happen. It would also have to beat out other methods of getting energy from waste water, like microbial fuel cells that don’t require sea water, or collecting fats oils and grease (FOG) from waste water and making bio-diesel or methane (like the East Bay MUD in Oakland). It seems more dreamy than reality at this point, but it at least would actually produce H2, unlike the other study you linked to.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          PR: I certainly in no way indicated that I think that RED or artificial photosynthesis is ready to go, my objection is to absolutist statements that hydrogen can 'never' be produced economically or with sufficient energy efficiency. If you want my best guess of the way of doing that, then we can certainly do it using nuclear power, and high temperature versions of the Chinese Pebble Bed reactor currently being built and which is modular and mass producible would do the job fine. According to MIT up to 69% of the fuel could be burnt using this type of reactor, so concerns about absolute efficiency are moot considering the colossal size of the resource base. At ~70% efficiency we could get uranium from the sea, and the cost of the fuel would still be tiny per kwh so the resource would last as long as continental erosion carries uranium into the sea. The point really is that currently natural gas or even geothermal could provide plenty of hydrogen, so all the theorising about how impossible it is to fuel vehicles using hydrogen is ill-based. If someone wants to argue that there are significant obstacles to deploying a hydrogen infrastructure, fine, and other energy carriers such as methanol may be preferable anyway. The notion that we are stuck just with batteries and their limitations in the absence of ICE and fossil fuels seems to me quite false though.
          DaveMart
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          'hydrogen will never be produced in significant quantities from any source other than natural gas' If you are going to make assumptions you need some grounds for them, particularly since for some unexplained reason you seem to think that others ought to share them. So you rule out the use of geothermal to produce hydrogen?: http://www.os.is/gogn/os-onnur-rit/OS-2010-DME-project.pdf On what grounds? So RED will not work? http://www.gizmag.com/producing-hydrogen-from-wastewater/19884/ Why not, and why are you so confident of that? If that did not work, why could you not use it to supplement the electricity used for electrolysis, so greatly reducing the amount of power you would need to produce to run it? If the many ways they are looking at solar photosynthesis to produce hydrogen can't work, perhaps you would share your analysis to show why not: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2010/04/belcher-20100412.html#more You are just making assumptions, on flimsy or no grounds.
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