The U.S. Department of Energy is awarding about $6 million in funding for projects at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico that advance fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.
Ford will use the money to develop a uniquely American fuel-cell catalyst production process, according to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, who announced the funding Thursday afternoon.
"Ford is helping lead the nation in the research and development of next-generation technologies that will make our cars cleaner, safer and more fuel efficient," Dingell said in a statement. "Today's announcement will help accelerate American innovation in clean energy technologies, and keep Michigan and the U.S. at the forefront of developing the cars and trucks of the future."
Despite a very limited presence in cars currently on the roads, the hydrogen fuel cell industry grew to $2.2 billion in sales in 2014, up from $1.3 billion the year before, according to the DOE.
In its corporate sustainability report from 2014/15, Ford said it has been working on fuel cell development and technology for more than a decade. The company participated in a DOE-funded project from 2005-2009 in which a fleet of 30 Ford Focus fuel-cell vehicles, or FCVs, were tested in real-world conditions.
"We believe that hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles may be an important long-term solution for diversifying our energy sources, as well as for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, if hydrogen fuel emerges as an economically viable energy carrier," the company says in the report. "Therefore, Ford has committed to significant hydrogen fuel cell research and development."
However, Ford also acknowledged the challenges that the commercial application of FCVs face, such as the cost and durability of the fuel cell system, as well as producing and distributing hydrogen fuel and then developing the infrastructure to deliver it to drivers.
Unlike a battery-electric car, which stores energy from a charge, vehicle with hydrogen fuel cells store hydrogen. The FCVs convert hydrogen and oxygen into an electrical current within the car's fuel cell stack. The pollution-free result is that the car only emits water vapor and heat.
Though automakers have been introducing several concept cars, there have only been three fuel cell vehicles sent to production, including the Honda FCX Clarity, the Hyundai ix35 FCEV and the Toyota Mirai.