No single technology will triumph in the pursuit of a “greener” auto industry. Instead, the future will include a mix of cars powered by electricity, hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels, according to the world’s biggest car makers.
Gathered together at a hydrogen and fuel cells conference in Vancouver this week, car company executives said it is wrong to characterise their search for the low- or no-pollution vehicles of tomorrow as a battleground of technologies.
“This is nonsense. This is not about picking some winner,” said Andreas Truckenbrodt, chief executive of Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation (AFCC), a company set up by Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co to research fuel cells for vehicles.
“All these technologies have their value,” he said, painting a picture of an auto industry in which combustion engines will share the road with plug-in electric vehicles and cars running on hydrogen.
Lawrence Burns, vice-president of research and development at General Motors Corp, said there is no one “silver bullet” solution for weaning the auto industry off its dependence on petroleum.
“We need a full portfolio of solutions as we transition from gasoline and diesel to renewables,” Burns said, speaking shortly after the former Detroit giant filed for bankruptcy.
Burns declined to comment on the filing other than to say that the “new” GM “is about reinventing the automobile and the automobile business”.
With a finite amount of government and private funding for research, and potentially rich rewards for the technology that achieves widespread acceptance, competition among developers is inevitable.
The Obama administration fanned the debate last month when U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu proposed a nearly two-thirds cut in government funding for research into hydrogen-powered cars in favour of supporting work on biofuels and batteries.
The hydrogen fuel-cell car was touted by former President George W. Bush in 2003 as the pollution-free vehicle of the future that would help the United States reduce its dependence on foreign oil. But Chu believes its practical use is still 10 to 20 years away.
FUEL CELL CARS SEEN IN 2015
Executives from GM, Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co and the Daimler-Ford venture, AFCC, disagree and peg 2015 as the date for commercialization of cars powered by fuel cells — devices that produce electricity from hydrogen using a chemical reaction.
“I was very pleased that here were four auto companies all saying pretty much the same thing about the state of readiness of the technology,” GM’s Burns said.
Critics of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles say they will never be economically mass-produced and cite difficulties such as hydrogen production and storage, the high cost of the cars themselves and the massive cost of building a network of hydrogen fueling stations.
Carmakers acknowledge that hurdles remain but say that they are working hard to overcome them.
“Fuel cells work fine. The No. 1 focus is now on cost reductions, and we know how to get there,” Truckenbrodt said.
“Do you really think we would be spending billions if we were waiting for a miracle?” he said.
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