The whole world will soon be driving electric cars — and yet, hydrogen would be a sensible alternative. This element that is available on earth in almost unlimited supply, is converted to electricity in fuel cell technology which an increasing number of car-makers are banking on. In order to promote this technology, the “Hydrogen Council” has been set up in Davos of which besides automobile manufacturers and gas producers such as BMW, Daimler, Tovoty, Linde and Air Liquid, also oil concerns such as Shell and Total are members.

The members of the Council invest 1.4 billion euros a year in the development and industrialisation of the technology which so far has lived in the shadows due to a scarcity of hydrogen filling stations and high production costs. Benoît Potier, CEO of Air Liquide and one of the two Chairmen of the new alliance, warns as follows: “We need governments that support hydrogen technology with their own measures — e.g. by drawing up investment plans for a nationwide infrastructure.

© Hyundai
© Hyundai

Many areas of unfinished business with regard to hydrogen

The varied backgrounds of the members is explained by the similarity of the aims they are backing: by contrast with electricity, hydrogen cannot be decentralised. The oil companies’ filling stations and the gas producers’ production sites would still be required, and car-makers would be less dependent on manufacturers of battery cells. BMW continues to drive the development of cars with fuel cells, and is forecasting that the technology will run neck-and-neck with battery-driven cars and hybrids. The first small series model with a fuel cell is planned for 2021. However, the supply is questionable in Germany with currently only 26 hydrogen filling stations, although 100 are planned by 2018.

Things are different in Japan. In advance of the Olympic Games, this Asian state is massively expanding its network of hydrogen filling stations. The proportion of emission-free vehicles is to rise to up to 70 percent by 2030 —and hydrogen is to take a large share of it. In Korea, Hyundai has presented the first vehicle ready for mass production in the ix35 Fuel Cell.

Just infrastructure problems in this country, in other words? Not entirely: At present, hydrogen or H2 has to be produced from natural gas, a process that produces CO2. Although supplies of hydrogen are limitless, on earth it is mostly bound to other elements. One major project for the Council, therefore, is to guarantee the production of “green hydrogen”.