Motorists with an eye for environmentally-friendly driving have long been aware of hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen has the potential to replace gasoline in a way that hybrids, electrics and diesel vehicles cannot because of its lack of emissions and independence from batteries. Mercedes-Benz reaffirmed this week that it’s an interesting concept and put its estimate for a hydrogen car of its own at 2017.
Since that statement, the blogosphere has abounded with over-reaching headlines that suggest Mercedes-Benz sees itself as JFK in the space race, aiming to put a hydrogen man on the moon within a certain number of years. Rather, the automaker stressed that the success of hydrogen cars lies not with the technology of the car itself, but with how that car is refueled.
The advantage of electric and hybrid and diesel over hydrogen is ease of refueling. Gas powers hybrids, diesel is available at gas stations, and electrics now need only a regular wall outlet—although they recharge much, much, much faster at a DC charging station. Hydrogen, by contrast, needs a tiny blimp to fly down and siphon some of its precious fuel into your vehicle.
An exaggeration, sure, but also fairly accurate as to how difficult it is to find a hydrogen station in the U.S.
Estimates from the Alternative Fuels Data Center put the number of hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S. at just 10. Of course, there are likely a number of private stations in various corporations, laboratories, universities and Donald Trump’s mansion estates around the country, but those are not publicly accessible.
Last year, Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler put ink to paper—or signed a gasoline pact, who knows what auto execs do—with Ford and Nissan to share the cost of developing hydrogen fuel cell technology. It’s really a unique trio of the U.S., Japan and Germany to bring their respective expertises to bear, and we have no doubt the partnership will be a fruitful one.
But the larger issue of how we’re going to refuel these cars needs to be addressed, and until that happens, hydrogen will remain no more than a tailpipe dream. As Jeff Schuster, a vehicle forecaster with LMC Automotive, recently said of the classic estimate of when hydrogen will be ready, “It’s always 10 years out.”