28 Jan 2013

Big news - Ford, Mercedes & Nissan/Renault sign hydrogen deal

Last week it was Toyota and BMW announcing a deal to work together on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  This week it's Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Ford and the Renault/Nissan alliance (not to be confused with the Rebel Alliance).

That previous sentence contains a majority of the automotive industries big hitters.  Presumably more will come out of the woodwork soon to announce 'strategic partnerships' to develop hydrogen technology - which is vastly expensive.  VW Group can afford to go it alone and maybe so can GM but Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Fiat and the Koreans can't.

All of which is great for petrolheads.  We know that the world's oil supply will run out at some point and we'll have to look elsewhere for an independent power source for our independent transport.  The thought that in 30 years time we'll all have to use either public transport or electric vehicles fills us with dread.

Hydrogen is freely available, and produces zero emissions, but is a PITA to store onboard a vehicle.   The fact that the motor industry seems to have woken up to the fact that battery technology is not, and will not, progress at a fast enough rate to provide us with completely independent transport which is easily refillable or rechargeable is a GOOD THING.  It means we still get a real engine, even if its ultimate use it to power the electric motors that will drive the wheels.

Here's the meat of the Ford, Daimler and Renault/Nissan press release:

  • First vehicles expected from the alliance in 2017
  • Each company to invest equally
  • The deal signals a clear intent that they expect the world to provide fuelling facilities for hydrogen cars.  In their words - "The collaboration sends a clear signal to suppliers, policymakers and the industry to encourage further development of hydrogen refueling stations and other infrastructure necessary to allow the vehicles to be mass-marketed"
  • The electricity is generated onboard the vehicle by a 'fuel cell stack', using an electro-chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.  The only by-products are steam and heat.
  • The hydrogen is stored onboard in a high pressure tank.

The technology is already in place to create a hydrogen powered vehicle, indeed Mercedes are testing prototypes, but its further refinement and mass production techniques is what will cost big money.  

The pertinent point in the above is the signalling of intent to the world that this is happening.  Basically the auto industry is saying to governments and fuel suppliers worldwide, "We are making hydrogen cars.  You'd better be ready by making it available at the roadside."

We find this an exciting development.  Do you?

Note - at the time of writing no mainstream UK websites had picked this story up.  Given it's potential impact on the entire industry this is odd.