Jamie Lee Curtis, second customer of Honda's FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle at a hydrogen filling station in West Los Angeles.
Jamie Lee Curtis, second customer of Honda’s FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle at a hydrogen filling station in West Los Angeles. Click image to enlarge

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By Greg Wilson; photos courtesy Honda

Is the fuel cell car the “Car of the future,” or is the hydrogen fuel cell destined to become another impractical alternative power source without a viable refuelling infrastructure to support it?

Lately, the pendulum has been swinging towards battery-electric cars, gas-electric hybrids and plug-in gas-electric hybrids (PHEVs). In May, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) cut back federal funding for hydrogen fuel cell automotive research, preferring instead to fund and promote electric cars, PHEVs and biofuels.

At a media briefing on May 7th, 2009, DOE Secretary Steven Chu stated, “We asked ourselves, is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy? The answer, we felt, was ‘No’”.

Understandably upset, automakers and hydrogen-promoting organizations representing health, environmental and energy interests called for the restoration of hydrogen and fuel cell research funds citing “real world” data collected by the DOE and others showing that fuel cell vehicles are inherently low in smog-causing emissions, cut carbon emissions by more than half, and achieve nearly 60% efficiency, which is two to three times the fuel economy of comparable (gasoline) combustion vehicles.

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