Despite fuel cell technology’s lack of traction in the auto industry, most major automakers are committed to furthering the technology and eventually selling a car powered by the advanced propulsion system.

The main reason given is that the car of tomorrow could be one of several main types, be it battery-powered, fuel cell-powered or perhaps even synthetic fuel-powered, so automakers need to hedge their bets.

Already we’ve seen BMW and Toyota join forces in the area of fuel cells, among other things, and more recently Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan did the same.

Not wanting to be left out, General Motors and Honda have now announced their own collaborative effort in the area of fuel cell technology. The two have signed a long-term, definitive agreement to co-develop a next-generation fuel cell and hydrogen storage system, aiming for the 2020 time frame.

GM alone has accumulated more than three million miles of fuel cell testing, while Honda has for several years run a trial fleet of FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicles in real-world testing. A successor to the Clarity is expected in 2015, while GM is yet to announce a production car using the tech.

The collaboration expects to succeed by sharing expertise, economies of scale and common sourcing strategies. At the same time, the two also plan to work with other parties to accelerate the roll-out of the hydrogen fuel infrastructure.

Fuel cell-powered cars are essentially extended-range electric cars that use a hydrogen fuel cell to charge a car’s onboard battery instead of an internal combustion engine. Hydrogen fuel is combined with oxygen from the air inside the fuel cell stack in a process known as electrolysis. The only byproducts of this are electricity, which is used to directly power an electric motor or charge up a battery, and water.

While automakers may tout that renewable hydrogen can be generated from sources like wind or biomass, the reality is that most hydrogen is currently generated via steam-methane reforming, a process that produces a lot of CO2.

Given this obstacle, as well as the absent hydrogen fuel infrastructure and the rapid advancement in battery technology over the past several years, it’s hard to make the case for fuel cells, yet still the automakers keep trying.


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