MUNICH, Germany -- In the debate over fuels of the future, hydrogen-based fuel cell vehicles always lose on two counts: cost and availability.
In a recent survey by consultants Frost & Sullivan, half of the 1,800 European respondents cited expense and accessibility as major concerns about alternative fuels.
Linde AG and Hyundai Motor Co. offer solutions to both problems.
Germany's Linde, the world's largest builder of hydrogen production facilities, has developed a mobile refueling station that dispenses either liquid or gaseous hydrogen. During the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany, Linde used the station and Hyundai vehicles to raise awareness about the technology and show that widespread hydrogen-vehicle use is within reach. Linde's mobile unit can refuel a vehicle in about three minutes.
Cheaper fuel cells
Hyundai, meanwhile, has an ambitious cost target: sell a hydrogen-powered vehicle for less than $40,000 by 2015.
"We are far above that right now," says Sae Hoon Kim, senior research engineer for Hyundai's fuel cell vehicle team in South Korea. "But if we can bring (the price) down to that level, we think customers will buy it."
Hyundai is testing 32 fuel cell vehicles in South Korea and the United States. The automaker plans to enlarge the fleet, says Tae Won Lim, director of eco-technology research at Hyundai's advanced technology center in Korea.
Kim and Lim were here last month to showcase Hyundai's and Linde's hydrogen solutions.
Some auto analysts predict fuel cell vehicles will capture 10 percent of the market by 2025 and at least 50 percent by 2040.
"The hybrid market took off so fast, anyone who hesitates on fuel cells will be lost," Lim says. "We don't know when the market will be open. But we will not be late."
More mobile units
Linde's mobile hydrogen station is an important stage for fuel cell development. With no infrastructure in place, temporary solutions, such as mobile units, are essential to get the technology moving.
"Automakers want to bring new developments, but they need the infrastructure, and that's a major problem," says Henning Tomforde, Linde marketing manager for hydrogen projects. "This is just one step to bringing a solution in the transition to hydrogen.
"Until major cities have infrastructure, mobile units should help speed development by other automakers."
Linde expects manufacturers to start producing fuel cell vehicles by 2012.
The company's mobile hydrogen unit is a pilot project. But Tomforde said DaimlerChrysler AG, BMW AG and General Motors are interested in purchasing Linde's technology.
Said Tomforde: "Our next business will come from customers."
You may e-mail Jason Stein at [email protected]