fuel cell vehicles: the global warming savers?

Last week, I visited Tokyo Gas Co. to discuss management of technology topics with people from a variety of companies. It was a dull and cloudy winter day though, I enjoyed a lab tour hosted by Tokyo Gas. The tour includes a few fuel cell developments and related products such as residential fuel cells and hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles. See the company site for detail.

It seems they have more than six fuel cell vehicles, which are leased from car major manufactures such as Mazda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, etc. The monthly leasing fee is USD 10,000-12,000 per car. It is quite expensive.

I rode one of fuel cell vehicles, which is a Toyota Highlander.
Its hybrid motor system boosted the power so well. The acceleration was very good. That was owing to the hybrid motors not to the fuel cell.

See the pictures attached. You can find no exhaust pipe but a water drain hole covered by a mesh.

The driver told me that the original gasoline car weight was 1,750Kg. The hybrid version of gasoline and nickel metal hydride battery increased its weight to 1890kg. The fuel cell version reached 2,150Kg weight. What a very heavy car it is!

The diver continued his explanation. “300km distance range is not enough to go around Tokyo and 120km/h cursing runs out of the nickel metal hydride battery. The speed should be at 80km/h." "we need more hydrogen stations though, such as station is very pricy since it must be equipped a compressor that provides the hydrogen at 70 M Pa (if my memory is correct), which is 700 atm (since 1 atm = 0.101325MPa). And we can keep compressed hydrogen long time.”

It is said fuel cell technologies will save our energy consumption and thus prevent the global warming. I agree as far as the hydrogen is NOT made from fossil fuels. In reality, however, hydrogen fuel is being made from fossil fuels. The efficiency of “Well to Wheel” energy transmission is almost comparable to diesel hybrid vehicles and worse than electric ones.

See the report in English , its summary in Japanese and a very critical discussion also in Japanese. The report recalls my memory that a hybrid system (not a fuel cell system from fossil fuels) can save the global warming, where kerosene and gasoline are the most convenient and portable types of fuel for automobile. I leaned from a TTI vanguard session in US 2003. Fuel cell vehicles in general are being developed for environmental appeal, no for real environmental consideration.

My last question to the driver was “when considering the global warming, it is better to use natural gas cars rather than fuel cell cars, isn’t it?”