Fuel Cell Vehicles and EVs: More Alike Than Not

For the last few decades, the interest level in (and DOE funding for) FCVs and EVs has had somewhat of an inverse correlation, with one rising while the other falls. Most conversations and development efforts have focused on one vehicle architecture or the other, not both. But taking a view from above, these two platforms are more alike in form and function than they are different.

15 years ago (during the Clinton administration) EV development and interest was progressing more rapidly. Then after California backed off on requiring zero emission vehicles and the George W. Bush administration took over, Fuel Cells were prioritized. EVs and the rest of the plug-in vehicle family are getting more attention today, though FCVs continue to fight for respect. But the worlds are converging and the automotive industry would likely benefit if the research and advocacy groups dropped their swords and worked in parallel.

Mercedes-Benz, with its E-Cell and F-Cell programs, is among the OEMs that appear to be centralizing efforts in making FCVs and PEVs as complementary platforms that can extensively share technology. The architectures are alike in that all battery electric vehicles and FCVs solely use electricity to provide propulsion. While EVs solely use batteries to provide power for locomotion, FCVs use fuel cells in conjunction with batteries (or ultracapacitors) for propulsion power and energy storage. Both vehicles do not directly generate emissions, and many of the secondary vehicle systems use the same or similar electronic components.

A look at a BEV and FCV in development by Mercedes-Benz shows that these vehicles are really apples from the same family tree:

The fuel cells biggest advantage today is that it has nearly double the driving range, and the fuel cell/battery combination delivers more power and greater acceleration than the batteries alone. BEVs today are being sold commercially in greater numbers and also have the advantage of a growing public charging infrastructure that far surpasses the hydrogen refueling infrastructure (at least beyond Southern California).

As my erudite colleague has pointed out, combining the technologies into a range extended FCV makes sense on many levels and our conversations with OEMs indicate that they are kicking the tires on the idea. Mercedes-Benz (with its BlueZero platform), GM, and Ford all see benefits in creating flexible platforms where drivetrain architectures can be mixed and matched like Garanimals. When only electricity is used for propulsion, components such as electric motors et. al. can be leveraged most effectively.

Article by John Gartner, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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