Germany plans promoting hydrogen drives

December 15, 2016 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
While battery electric vehicles in the past months take center stage in the media, the hydrogen fuel cell technology is far from being dead. The German government plans to set up a multi-million funding program to foster this alternative to batteries.

Within the two years to come, the Germans plan to invest € 250 million into research programs around the hydrogen fuel cell technology with the goal of increasing their competitiveness. Another focus is on establishing a hydrogen filling station network. “With electromobility as well as with automated and connected driving, we are facing the largest revolution of mobility since the invention of the automobile,” said Alexander Dobrindt, minister of transport in an interview with daily paper “Die Welt”.

According to the article, since 2006 the German federal government and the industry have spent some € 1.4 billion for the development of hydrogen-driven cars. The research programs brought about some success – for instance, in 2014 Volkswagen demonstrated a modified Golf with hydrogen-based electricity generation, Daimler already succeeded in driving a small fleet of hydrogen cars around the world. But though Daimler said it would be ready for series production “at any time the market conditions are permitting such a step”, to date no hydrogen vehicle can be bought from a German (or European) manufacturer; the only available series car with fuel cell drive is Toyota’s Mirai.

Fuel cell cars have an edge over battery-powered vehicles: Their driving range is higher, and their tanks can be refilled in a time span comparable of conventional gasoline cars. The Mirai, for example has a range of about 500 km, similar to Daimler’s modified B-Series. The downside is that the filling station density is even worse than the charging network for battery-electric cars: Throughout Germany, there are only about 20 hydrogen filling stations, and in other countries the situation is probably not much better.

Nevertheless, several carmakers, including Daimler, Ford and Nissan recently announced plans to develop a new fuel-cell based powertrain. It is said that the first such vehicles will be available in 2017.