An idled program for vehicles driven by fuel cells is gaining new impetus from new programs at the U.S. Department of Energy
In its push for putting zero-emission cars on the road, the Department of Energy is launching new programs to study the infrastructure needed to run vehicles on hydrogen.
“Recently, there’s a renewed focus on getting these technologies out on the road and into the hands of consumers,” said Daniel Dedrick, hydrogen and fuel cell program manager at Sandia National Laboratories.
Last week, Sandia signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with private research firm SRI International to collaborate on testing alternative fuels like natural gas and hydrogen in vehicles, breaking ground on a new testing facility called the Center for Infrastructure Research and Innovation (CIRI).
Two weeks earlier, DOE announced a public-private program called H2USA aimed at getting government researchers to work with automakers to bring cheap hydrogen to the masses.
Though battery-electric cars have lately driven fuel cells out of the spotlight, some technical advances in these systems have drawn more attention from manufactures like Ford and General Motors. “We’ve reduced the costs of fuel cells by more than 80 percent in the past decade,” said Sunita Satyapal, director of the fuel cell technologies office in the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office at DOE.
Much of the cost savings came from using less platinum, a precious metal catalyst that helps pull electrons off hydrogen gas to generate an electric current. Current fuel cell designs use one-fifth of the platinum needed in their predecessors.
How do you deliver hydrogen?
On the fuel side, the boom in cheap natural gas has lowered the cost of hydrogen. Methane, the major component of natural gas, can form hydrogen via a process called steam reforming. “With natural gas, hydrogen can be competitive with gasoline,” Satyapal said.
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