Hydrogen’s the fuel of the future, but FFVs are ready now

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles might be the cars of the future. In fact, to recycle an old joke (because here at Fuel Freedom we’re big on recycling), FCVs might forever be the cars of the future.

It’s National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day, as proclaimed by the U.S. Senate, so FCVs are getting their 24 hours in the sun. But momentum, and public profile, has been building the past few years for the once-longshot technology.

The biggest advantage FCVs have going in their favor is that Toyota believes in them. Watch this video about how methane from cow poop can fuel the awesome new Toyota Mirai, and you’ll become a believer too.

John Rosevear of The Motley Fool says his instinct is that FCVs are a fad:

But every time I’m tempted to write off fuel cells, I remember one big caveat: The world’s biggest automaker has made a big bet on them, because it thinks battery-electric cars have a fatal flaw.

Scientists at Toyota think that the hours-long recharging time required by battery-electric cars will prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to their large-scale adoption. Toyota executives say that the hydrogen fuel cell powering the company’s new Mirai sedan is a “better battery,” one that can be “recharged” in the time it takes to fill the car’s tank with hydrogen — about five minutes.

Fuel Freedom columnist William Tucker wrote in August that “after almost a decade of talk and promises, the first hydrogen cars are now making it from the drawing boards into showrooms,” and that President George W. Bush’s famous pitch on FCVs during his 2003 State of the Union Address might actually come true: that a child born that day might drive a FCV as his or her first car.

A New York Times story on FCVs in April noted that “hydrogen fuel cell costs [are] falling significantly,” and that in California there is “a tiny yet budding network of public fueling stations.” Tiny indeed: Nine of them, with 18 more in development, many with help from the state. A new one just opened in San Juan Capistrano on Thursday.

But in July, Green Car Reports wrote about complaints from FCV owners who says the fuel-distribution system in California is spotty:

The stations are frequently inoperative, they say, closed for days or weeks at a time.

Moreover, when the stations are functioning properly, they sometimes can only fuel one or two cars before an hour-long wait is required–and some stations can only fuel the cars to half-full.

GCR also notes a few months back that an auto supplier exec said fuel-cell technology will become “commercially viable” by 2025. The post made the case that battery-powered electric vehicles currently for sale are “the better option, at least for the foreseeable future.”

FCVs and EVs are terrific options, and maybe one day we’ll all be driving those, or some other form of zero-emission vehicle that doesn’t rely on dirty fuels like gasoline or diesel. But an even better option for right now — more convenient, and certainly less expensive — is the flex-fuel vehicle. There are 1 million of them already on the road in California, out of 17 million nationwide, with many models (new and used) coming in at attractive sticker prices for families. They can run on any combination of gasoline and E85, a safe, approved fuel. And the infrastructure is already in place, with hundreds of stations around the country.

Check our Fuels 101 page to see whether your car is flex-fuel, and to find a station near you.