LOS ANGELES Its the technology of the future, the ultimate zero-emission way to run a car. So why do fuel cells seem like old news these days?
Admittedly, this was my first visit to the annual Electric Vehicle Symposium, but I sure wasnt expecting to see the Ballard fuel cell guy alone at his booth like the Maytag repairman. Maybe it was a temporary lull. Crowds come and go, after all.
At that moment, a crowd was gathered around the nearby EnerDel booth to see a plug-in hybrid the company makes using a lithium ion battery pack.
Hybrids, I thought, were supposed to be a gateway to a fuel cell future. But even here, in the shadow of Disneys Tomorrowland, people were more interested in the here and now. They said fuel cells were more the buzz when oil was cheaper and people were more open to talking about ideal energy solutions.
My first clue to the fuel cell snub came at lunch. As fate would have it, I shared a table with three people, all strangers to me. The stranger in the suit worked for a company that produces hydrogen. The two others, one wearing an I want 100+ miles per gallon T-shirt, have a hybrid plug-in startup venture.
The argument er, debate began during the salad course. For a good half-hour, they went back and forth. The plug-in partners thought it was wasteful and costly to produce hydrogen to make electricity. Its better, they said, to power the vehicle directly from the grid.
The hydrogen guy smelled another conspiracy theory about to be put forth, and he went on the offensive: Why would numerous countries be pursuing this technology if it werent a viable solution? he asked.
I excused myself and left the table early. Toyota had invited me to test-drive a vehicle. It was a plug-in hybrid.