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Automakers, oil companies team up to push hydrogen investments

It's all about trying to mitigate the effects of human contributions to climate change.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

When oil companies start talking about reducing emissions and moving to alternate fuel sources, you know things are getting serious.

The heads of Total and Royal Dutch Shell have formed the "Hydrogen Council" along with several automakers, including BMW, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota. The goal is to help accelerate the development and rollout of hydrogen fuel around the world, in an effort to reduce emissions and the overall effects of climate change.

Honda's Clarity has a good shot at gaining wider acceptance, because it will have nonhydrogen variants on sale in the coming years.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

"We are not trying to bring hydrogen only to cars or trains. We are trying to bring a systemic approach," said Benoît Potier, head of French supplier Air Liquide, at a press conference Tuesday. "Hydrogen can generate power, produce heat and it is close to the chemical industry. And it is the most abundant element in the universe."

All parties involved have made efforts to increase use of hydrogen power, but it still hasn't taken hold. The majority of US hydrogen filling stations are located in California, which limits its use as a vehicle fuel. Right now, annual investments in hydrogen amount to about $1.5 billion, while it's hundreds of times higher for oil.

One of the biggest proponents the council could win over would be governments. If legislative bodies made a concerted effort to introduce hydrogen power, just as the US government has slowly begun warming on battery-electric vehicles, it could greatly expand hydrogen's feasibility.

This might seem like it runs counter to oil companies' goals. But not only do these energy providers also have money invested in hydrogen, they likely realize that unchecked climate change could really screw things up, and that includes the ability to make money.

Automakers have only dabbled in hydrogen-electric drivetrains thus far. Honda just launched its next fuel-cell car, the Clarity, which will feature battery-electric and hybrid variants later on. Toyota has the Mirai, and Hyundai has a Tucson crossover with a hydrogen fuel-cell setup. A hydrogen-powered Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class is slated for release this year, as well.

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