Fuel Cells Carry High Price Tag

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 20, 2003 | Go to article overview

Fuel Cells Carry High Price Tag


Byline: Ted Biederman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There are more problems than infrastructure slowing the advancement of fuel cells as a means of powering vehicles.

The high cost of platinum and the amount needed of the precious metal for mass-market volumes is another main barrier to the development of market-viable fuel cell cars, according to a senior engineer at Nissan Motor Corp.

Masashi Arita, general manager of Nissan's powertrain and environment research lab, has said: "The most critical technical issue is how to reduce the cost of the stack itself." The "stack" refers to the multilevel design of fuel cells that hold, separate and eventually mix the gases to create the hydrogen that is needed to power the electric motors.

Mr. Arita said between 80 and 100 grams of platinum are needed for a fuel cell's power output to be in the range of 70 to 75 kilowatts, or about 100 horsepower, which is roughly the standard for fuel-cell cars. For comparison, he points out that the amount of platinum used in a catalytic converter is less than 10 grams per car.

Mr. Arita said a fuel cell capable of powering a car today costs more than $200,000.

If power output could be maintained at the 70- to 75-watt level while slashing platinum usage by 75 percent, to about 20 grams, then: "We could begin introducing some fuel cell vehicles into the market."

A number of companies including Honda, Toyota and General Motors say fuel-cell vehicles will be introduced to the mass market within the next six to 10 years. However, they do not expect them to be built or sold in large numbers. Niche would probably overstate the volume expected. …

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