Rep. Eric Massa's excellent fuel cell road trip


In order to prove how wonderful hydrogen fuel cell cars are, Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) decided to drive one from New York to Washington DC for his congressional swearing in. But the fuel cell car has a range of under 200 miles, and the trip for NY to DC is 300 miles. So here's what he did:

Massa drove one fuel cell car while a hybrid SUV [Chevy Tahoe] towing an additional SUV followed along. Once he got half way, he switched to new fuel cell car [which I assume was towed to the half way point sometime earlier so that it would be waiting for the environmentally-conscious congressman]. The empty fuel cell was then towed back by the first SUV. As he continued on his journey, the second SUV followed. Once Massa arrived in DC, the second SUV then towed the second fuel cell car back to NY.
Rep. Eric Massa's excellent fuel cell road trip


  1. Um… I’m not sure that really makes the point for viability very effectively but…

    Actually, that story kind of confuses me. I…

    I need a drink. Or several.

  2. Doesn’t all this SUV driving defeat the purpose of using the fuel cell. Even though they were hybrids, I wonder what level of emissions they left behind.

  3. While I respect the effort to promote alternative fuels, it seems like his stunt draws more attention to the limitations of fuel cells (e.g. short range, lack of filling stations)…

    Also hydrogen is probably the worst alternative fuel to be promoting right now, but that’s neither here nor there.

  4. He’s got his heart in the right place, but wouldn’t an SUV (even a hybrid SUV) towing another car use more gas than usual?

  5. Let’s try the math.

    Let A = 1st car driven
    Let B = 2nd car driven
    Let Y = 1st SUV
    Let Z = 2nd SUV
    Let D = distance of trip

    A travels 0.5D, B travels 0.5D. A+B=D. Y travels 0.5Dx2=D, Z=0.5Dx3=1.5D. Y+Z=2.5D

    So, the hybrid SUVS travelled 2.5x the total distance. The fuel cell cars drove the distance. So in total, 3.5x the distance from NY to Washington was driven to get his ass from NY to Washington. So the SUVs would have to have 40% the emissions (assuming zero emissions from the fuel cell cars) of the alternative to make this trip anywhere approaching worthwhile. If he’d just driven one of the hybrid SUVs to Washington, it would be a 150% improvement!

    That’s assuming that the 2nd car was at the halfway point by some magical means. If another SUV towed it there and returned, that adds another 1D to the SUV cost. Now requiring 28% of the emissions to be worthwhile.

    A better example would have been to set up a temporary fuel cell refuelling station at the halfway point. It might still have worked out to being worse, but at least would have shown the viability and hidden the costs. Look! If we had hydrogen refuelling stations, this could be a zero-emissions trip! As opposed to: I’m a total moron.

    Not to mention what this probably cost the taxpayers.

  6. Have to agree with #3 Zikzak – Hydrogen is wrong technology to be pushing. The fact that a whole new filling infrastructure would need to be built is only one reason, but thanks for pointing it out Representative Massa. (Rep for an area not too far away my my own district as well!)

  7. Hmmm, does that qualify him as an idiot, or a moron?

    It is obvious that his handlers may have the right idea when it comes to political propaganda, but their implementation in a manner that fully supports the professed ideology is a little lacking.

    Sure, the vehicle was a prototype, and there was not likely to be a fuel cell recharging station along the way, but couldn’t he have worked out a deal with GM to have a recharger/fuel tanks dropped off along his route via some sort of scheduled transport? Or at least hitched up a trailer to carry the extra juice? Maybe put a reactor in the trunk and split the trip into an evening and a morning drive; then plug in at a hotel.

    I think that every politician should hire a geeco (geek+eco , c’mon people, adopt my meme, I want my 15GB of internet fame) to advise them whether or not their schemes are feasible within the constraints of both technology and ideology.

  8. @10 The switch to hydrogen fueling stations wouldn’t be that hard, just add a solar/wind powered reactor to each gas station, and drop a couple of storage tanks beside them (with appropriate safety and preventative measures ; underground would be best in my opinion) like they did when natural gas vehicles came on the market. The infrastructure/establishments are already there, they just need to diversify their products.

  9. That just feels weird. I mean, I guess if he’s trying to make a point solely about the reliability of the vehicle, then I guess it kind of makes sense?

    Although it seems like the real message of this stunt, what I got out of it anyway, is that a pure electric car will require much less infrastructure upgrading than a fuel-cell based vehicle. If he’d been driving a pure electric, he could have stopped along the way to just plug the thing in.

    As far as environmentalism goes, I believe the LOL-cats would say:

  10. Yikes, that was an epic fail… however it demonstrates hydrogen’s primary use; a tool for politicians to grandstand. (think west coast “hydrogen highway”)

    Hydrogen is not a fuel, it’s a storage medium, and most hydrogen today is generated from natural gas, which is non-renewable, and already available all over the US/Canada.

    I remember when Ballard had a fire on a hydrogen tanker truck here… The fire dept evacuated a 1km radius of houses around it, and had to fly in Praxair guys from California to deal with it… they sprayed water on the tanker and let it burn off.

    Now imagine thousands of hydrogen stations around the country manned at minimum wage.

  11. Looks like we’re back in the days when someone waving a red flag had to walk ahead of an automobile. Baby first steps.

  12. @15 Heee! Comments like that deserve a Boing (like a Digg, but for use here). Wonder is the gang will ever implement some sort of comment reply and ‘props’ system like Digg has, I’d like that.

  13. This is dangerous. All his hot air interacting with the hydrogen, that could be explosive.

    Green-washing SUVs takes us boldly nowhere.

  14. Actually, I disagree with the assumption that hydrogen is the wrong way to go just because there is no current hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

    One only needs to look at Europe’s experience with LPG to see that both demand and supply can slowly but surely increase to the point where it is reasonable to run 99% of the time on LPG. A few years ago my wife and I traveled by LPG in our 1998 Citroen Xsara across Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, Scotland, Norway (took a ferry from England to Norway), Sweden, Denmark, Germany and back to Krakow, Poland. I think we did around 7,000 km on that trip at roughly 350-450 km intervals / 215 to 275 miles – because the LPG tank in our car maxed out at about 35 liters. Almost the same distance as Massa was getting. The difference is that even in countries where LPG is hard to find such as Norway and Denmark there are stations no more than about 150 to 175 miles apart.

    Hydrogen just needs to be “considerably” cheaper than petrol to fill up with(say, 50% cheaper) and new hydrogen cars no more than a few thousand dollars more expensive than their petrol-based counterparts …and voila! Everyone will be buying them. At first they will be driven exclusively in cities or between large cities with hydrogen fueling stations but as demand increase, more and more stations would convert or add capability. Just as we’ve seen with LPG in Europe. It just needs to be cheap.

  15. Massa, making it happen. I think we all need to stop being so critical and take a lesson from his determination. Bravo.

  16. Also Adralien@14 How about training gas station attendants to handle and dispose of lye? I’m serious–electrolysis of water requires extremely high pH (usually achieved with high concentrations of lye) to run with a modest efficiency at STP. That’s a major problem with the “Oh, we’ll just stick some solar panels and a water splitter at every gas station in the US. It’s cool.” reaction to the “it’s made from natural gas” argument (which you are absolutely right about).

    Hydrogen fuel cells work great if you’re AC Transit and can map out the exact routes of your vehicles (thus their exact mileage) and have enough of a budget to hire people who can deal with the various hazardous materials involved in electrolysis and the hydrogen itself.

    Other than that, they’re a turkey. I’d be pleasantly surprised if someone managed to make a worthwhile car out of them, but surprised is the operable word here.


    A gallon of gasoline contains 1.3×10^8 joules of energy.

    Let’s take a conservative estimate at volume for a gas station. Let’s say it serves 100 cars per day 15 gallons each. 1.3×10^8 * 15 * 100 = 1.95×10^11 joules… 1 watt = 1 joule per second. 86400 seconds per day… That’s roughly 2.26 megawatts that said gas station is dispensing.

    80 meter wind turbines can generate that kind of power, but not 100% of the time. So depending on location/geography/etc… You’d likely need 3-8 80 meter wind turbines to feed that one gas station. And you can’t exactly put them right next to each other either.. They have to be spaced out a bit.

    Now consider that many (if not most) gas stations serve more than 100 cars per day…

    I don’t think you’ll be seeing a hydrogen fueling station that uses on-site wind to generate the fuel any time soon… Probably not ever.

  18. So, in all, it would have been better for him to just drive there in a hybrid car. He would have been able to do that all by himself, wouldn’t have had to have hybrid SUVs towing other cars around, pay for their drivers, etc.

    Plus, your average person is going to see this and say “well, it’s obvious those things aren’t very usefull”.

  19. @Daemon:

    In all, he probably should have just taken the train from NY to DC… They took the car back, so he obviously didn’t need to have it with him.

    Even Hybrids are insanely wasteful when you don’t have a good reason to be driving in the first place.

  20. Dear Representative,

    Just wanted to say thanks for demonstrating how hydrogen cell vehicles can be a total waste of energy.

    Keep up the good work.

    Yours sincerely,
    The Oil Lobby

  21. @23 IVAN256

    Yet again the cold hard light of truth shatters
    my warm and fluffy dreams. Not.. Going.. To.. Cry…

    O.K. I admit that the SCIENCE! makes things difficult, but with effort an cooperation we could do it. The ‘Fuel Companies’ could pour some money into wind and solar farms instead of oil derricks and the associated structures. This power could be pumped into the grid from a location that can accommodate the installation, and then have the local station purify locally collected rainwater and streams (added benefit would be extraction and sequestering of toxins in the water) and split it on site. Do you think we could make the SCIENCE! do that?

  22. Fool Cells (which is an appropriate epithet for fuel cells in automobiles) are strongly championed by Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, large American car companies, and the American and foreign Oil Industries. These same people are also in favor of dropping restrictions on the amount of arsenic permitted in drinking water.

    Do I really need to say anything more?


  23. Burnable methane and petroleum, which were once biomass, come out of the earth. Burnable biomass grows from water, sunlight, and tiny amounts of common minerals. These things are fuels; you burn them to release their embodied sunlight.

    Burnable free hydrogen does not occur in nature in any great quantity. It must be created from hydrogen compounds, and energy must be used to do this. Effectively, you must add sunlight.

    Therefore, hydrogen is not a fuel. Hydrogen is an inefficient low-density energy storage mechanism.

    One could easily convert all the petrol filling stations in the world into hydrogen filling stations. Simply burn a portion of the gasoline in a generator to drive a PEM conversion process to turn the rest of the gasoline into hydrogen. This would allow the existing energy infrastructure to remain substantially unchanged, only with higher cost to the consumer, less total efficiency, faster depletion of petroleum reserves, and (possibly) more pollution. We can call this the “Detroit Plan”. If hydrogen cars become commonplace, that is how they will be fueled in places where high-volume natural gas pipelines do not reach.

  24. ShaneALeslie @16, as long as we’re being wishful, what I want is a bitty red button with a tiny Jackhammer Jill on it that makes a BOING! noise when you click on it. If enough people say nice things about a comment, it gets one.

  25. Goes to show that leaders are all about image and will suck the planet furiously to get “sustainable” brownie points.

    The U.S., having given billion$ to GM should now force them to restart manufacturing the EV-1, the electric car they “killed”.

    Electric cars are far cheaper and more practical than hydrogen fuel cell cars. Electricity is available everywhere, hydrogen almost nowhere.

  26. @22: Your information is incomplete and out of date. The technology exists to run a PEM fuel cell in reverse to generate H2 at high pressure, merely by pressurizing the liquid feed, at high efficiency, (70%+).

    That does not make vehicular fuel cells a good idea… it is just a fertilizer-free supplement to the bogocity you be spreadin’.

    @23: So what? Do we argue in any other case that the means of electrical production should be right there at the power consumption site (except aluminum smelters)? No, not often. Quit spreading fertilizer.

    As a veteran of the fuel cell industry,, with thirteen years experience in pushing rocks up hills, I have to say that fuel cells are not a panacea to anyone’s energy problems, like @Adralien said, “not an energy source, just a storage medium”. They meet some needs for distributed stationary generation very well, and backup power for critical applications (my last 7-1/2 years at ReliOn).

    A general comment on the “Hydrogen Economy”:
    This is a code word for, “wouldn’t a buncha nuke plants be great? Then at night when no one needs all that juice we could just electrolyze water…”

    I’m all ranted out, damn…

  27. LOL Really sad thing is I am not surprised at all. Maybe he could have had a motor home follow with his close it it and another one with his family.

  28. Viable is a relative concept. Hydrogen makes sense only if used the appropriate ways. Fuel cells are “Sexy Tech” with price tags and edgy bits to match. We’ve still some learning curve compared to for example- Recreating Stanley Steamers. As a bridge and infrastructure creation tool for Hydrogen it might make sense.

    Or you could get Detroit screaming at the blasphemy of a Steam engined SUV.

    The reason to evaluate Fuel Cells Vs Recreating S team cars? Why the question gets raised is simple. We “had” the tech for Stanleys. That tech was REAL. It would fit into a Suv’s engine bay easily.

    We still do not have a REAL tech base for mass marketed FC’s of any portable designs. Cost effective,Reliable,Safe- Pick any 2 for using Hydrogen at all. Let alone in Fuel cells. But if Hydrogen is to eventually end up in FC cars starting with Steamers might be that needed bootstrap for the infrastructure. We could arguably get some fixed route captive fleets steaming quicker and cheaper than FC’s Look for example at “piston taps steam pintle” conversion kits that screw into spark plug holes… Existing bus engine becomes steamer “cheaper” than tearing it out for replacement. Later on we could work up refits to Electrics and FC’s

    Steam powered vehicles have an interesting synergy with hydrogen to mitigate the “choose any two” gotchas. The “already there” aspect of steam tech lets production ramp up faster. The water produced from burning H could potentially be reused as feed water makeup. Comparatively low pressure hydrogen stored in the ullage of a steamer’s water tankage could exploit the needed pressure ratings for multitasking’s overall cost assist too.

  29. Actually, we already have an alternative fuel distribution network. It’s called the electrical grid. Just create a Manhattan Project/Apollo Moon Shot program equivalent for battery technology and let’s be done with this problem already. Yeah, I know, electrification has its own share of problems, but we’re a lot closer to meeting a percentage of our transportation needs with electricity than we are with hydrogen.

  30. Hmm actually all this story proves is that tyhere aren’t a lot of Hydrogen stations out there.

    Oh it’s a stupid stunt but it proves nothing really.

    There are a lot of fuel stations out there they just need to add new fuel to the range.

    At forst it’ll be 90-10% split, but it will swing the other way and they will over time switch .

    My brother was telling me that there are now domestic set ups that can crack water for fuel running off of solar cells. He’s this big environmental scientist type.

    The problem is apparently storage at a domestic level.

    But if you had a Hydrogen car like a Clarity you could run your wjhole house off the fuel cell plant and be making your own H in the back yard.

    And any you weren’t using you could sell on.

    Micro generation is the answer,there are no HUGE central solutions that’ll really work.

    as ever pardon my terrible typing.

  31. For the price of the additional entourage, he could get an additional cylinder of hydrogen, a regulator valve, and a fueling adapter. And a technician to take along who’d do the refueling, because entrusting a politician with a flammable gas, or generally anything that could go wrong, is unwise.

    On a side note, the tails from electrolytic generation of hydrogen are enriched in deuterium. Could be exploited for heavy water production as a byproduct. CANDU reactors are nice.

    The tritium, a byproduct from those reactors, and helium-3, its decay product, then can be later used in nuclear fusion systems.

  32. In late 2007 I was at the European Bioinformatics Institution, and volunteered to help out with an opening ceremony they were having for their new building.

    The then UK Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Ian Pearson came to speak. He was a little late, because he refuses to travel anywhere except by public transport (his previous post was Minister of State for Climate Change and Environment). This created minor inconvenience, since the Genome Campus is about 3km or so from the nearest train station, but they sent a taxi for that short part of the trip.

    The point is, although I think New Labour have enormous flaws and are more Thatcherite than is good for them (or the rest of us), you have to respect Mr Pearson. He didn’t put on a single, cheap stunt – he made a lifelong commitment.

    (He also doesn’t seem to get any press for it.)

  33. He is both moron and idiot, above all he is a politician. He thought no one would discover and disclose his moronic dog and pony show. If he had any real concern for the environment he would have taken the train and a cab. One must ask exactly which lobbyist put him up to this stunt?

  34. The whole trip makes me think of this scene from “A Night at the Opera” (about 6 minutes in)

  35. I think we all need to stop being so critical and take a lesson from his determination

    If he’d start by thinking a little more he wouldn’t have to be so determined. (thanks Tesla)

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