If a green ride-sharing service were to flourish anywhere it would be in Munich, where you can rent no-emission cars on just about any city-centre street. And yet Linde AG is about to shut its two-year experiment with hydrogen.
It’s another setback for fuel cell-powered cars against those that run on batteries.
But the dirty little secret about clean cars is that a decade after Tesla Inc. left hydrogen technology in the dust by putting its first all-electric sedan on the road, automobile executives still think cars that emit only water are the way of the future. “We’ll keep the fuel-cell technology in development so that we have this technology option should there be a shift in the market,” said Ola Kaellenius, head of development at Daimler AG, which is about to market its GLC F-Cell sport utility vehicle that can drive 500 kilometers on a single tank.
A KPMG survey found most senior automotive executives believe battery-powered cars will ultimately fail, with hydrogen offering the true breakthrough for electric mobility. That’s what Japan is banking on—Toyota Motor Corp. is making a big bet it will triumph over batteries.
Of the almost 1,000 officials polled by the Dutch advisory, some 78 percent said hydrogen cars will prevail because their tanks can be filled in minutes, making recharging times of 25-45 minutes for battery options “seem unreasonable.”
Just compare BMW’s one fuel-cell car to its plans for 10 battery-powered models by 2022 and you can get a sense of how far behind hydrogen has fallen.
When zero-emission transport first captured the public imagination in the 1990s, hydrogen was just as promising as batteries, not least because fuel cells can run for a lot longer. Unlike liquid gasoline or diesel, a tank of pressurised hydrogen creates electricity by chemically fusing with oxygen in the air.
The limited availability of fuel-cell filling stations and how tricky it is to extract hydrogen from other elements it binds to, and plug-in electric cars feels more immediately feasible.