> Fuel Cells For Transportation -- Technology For The Future



>Joe Irvin is Communications Manager for the California Fuel Cell Partnership,

>a public-private consortium working to advance commercialization of fuel

>cell electric vehicles. The Partnership, headquartered in West Sacramento,

>is examining fuel choices, resolving regulatory issues, and raising public

>awareness of this environmentally-friendly technology. Over the next few

>years, they will demonstrate more than 70 cars and buses on California's




>Joe will describe the Partnership's activities, as well as offer insight

>into the unique dynamics at work among a group of competitors and

>regulators working cooperatively to bring a new technology to market.



Tom Dickerman began the presentation by giving people an overview of the technical aspects of fuel cells. They are a very efficient way of combining hydrogen and oxygen into water and electricity using a semi-permeable membrane in an electrolyte separating a cathode and anode. Because they use an electrochemical reaction instead of burning fuel, fuel cells are 70% efficient, which is much better than the 15% efficiency that can be gotten from internal combustion engines (ICE). Fuel cells can be made with power to weight ratios enough like those of an internal combustion engine (ICE) to make them useful in transportation applications. An interesting quality of fuel cells is that they scale very well, so watch battery sized ones are as feasible as ones that can power a significant piece of a city.

Joe Irvin then took over and showed a slick video that included such things as Governor Davis saying "California has teamed up with some of the best automotive manufacturers and energy providers in the world, to develop an exciting new technology that is both environmentally safe and commercially viable." There was also footage of SunLine busses using the stuff and experimental cars from Honda, DaimlerChrysler, and others.

Irvin then talked a bit about the state of the marketplace, and how it had developed since Jeff Ballard realized that he had to leave the Government and work in industry to make them commercially viable. The first company to buy into the idea was Daimler-Benz. After they had started their program, the other car companies had started feeling competitive pressure, and now they all have fuel cell programs. He expects the first fuel cell cars in the marketplace in a couple of years. There are already three or four bus fleets in California that have small numbers of fuel cell vehicles in them, and that number is expected to grow.

The fuel cell itself runs on Hydrogen, which is not considered to be very safe to distribute. Because of this, the industry has worked out ways to crack methanol between the fuel tank and fuel cell. There was considerable infrastructure built to distribute this fuel in the 1980s, when it was considered to be an alternative fuel. Irvin expects the oil companies to revisit that technology because they won't want to be perceived as the ones wasting a rapidly depleting resource once oil production peaks.

Tian Harter

For more information, please visit: www.fuelcellpartnership.org