The Future of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars: Will They Come Down in Cost?March 29, 2014
Incentives for Hydrogen Fuel Car Buyers
Energy efficiency mandates like California’s (which requires that by 2025, at least 1.5 million new vehicles on the road produce zero emissions) are poised to change the future of vehicle production. Yet hydrogen fuel cells (HFC) are known for their high price tag, which can be off-putting to many consumers and outright cost-prohibitive to some. As new legislation continues to appear, will these cars come down in cost and become a more viable option for eco-conscious consumers?
Some automakers have planned incentives to attract hydrogen fuel cell buyers. Hyundai plans to include free fuel in its $499 per month Tucson leases, and many HFC leases offer free maintenance and service. This reduces the buyer’s overall operating expenses and can seal the deal for some.
Several state-level incentives further help make these cars more affordable for buyers. For example, California allows HFC vehicle drivers to use high-occupancy lanes even if no other passengers are in the car. And at the federal level, consumers can receive a tax rebate of $4,000 through Dec. 31, 2014, with the purchase of a hydrogen fuel cell car, among other tax credits.
HFC Cars Coming Down in Cost
Automakers like Hyundai are optimistic about the chance to make tomorrow’s hydrogen fuel cell cars cheaper. At present, the main factor in the HFC vehicle’s high cost is the expense of the battery. As automakers find ways to make the batteries for these cars for less, they will be able to drop the price on the vehicles. Hyundai also hopes to be able to use HFC technology in electric vehicle cars, thinking that it will be cheaper in the long run to make HFC batteries than it will EV batteries.
It cost Toyota $1 million to make the first HFC battery in 2007, according to TechnologyReview.com. Already, the cost has fallen to under 10 percent of that. Toyota has primarily accomplished this by finding ways to use less platinum in fuel cells. By 2020, Toyota is optimistic it will be able to cut this number in half again, leading to lower starting price points for hydrogen fuel cell cars.
While HFC cars use more platinum than traditional vehicles, over time automakers may be able to engineer an HFC battery that uses similar levels of platinum to those found in the average car’s catalytic converter. Potentially, this would drive the cost down enough to make HFC cars viable for a broad cross section of the consumer market.
Automakers have also reconfigured the design of the hydrogen fuel cell itself, so fewer components are needed to create the cell. The less materials used in the manufacturing process, the less expensive the car is to produce, and the cost savings can be passed on to the consumer. A third innovation, improved efficiency of engines, helps reduce the hydrogen fuel consumed to further lighten the cost of using an HFC vehicle.
This all spells good news for consumers, who will learn how competitive these HFC cars are when researching new cars and comparing gas mileage, cost and other variables.
About the author: Jessica Adams is a green auto expert, grad school survivor and contributing writer.