I did not anticipate this, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it’s true. Sustainability is changing the face of capitalism. Why do I say that? Because the increasing awareness of the value and necessity of the commons upon which all businesses depend has led to levels of cooperation among competitors rarely seen before.
Last week, I spoke with Jimmy Samartzis of United Airlines about the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Alliance and he told me that this was not a competitive effort within the industry, but rather, that this and other efforts like it are efforts that all industry players recognize as needed.
Today, I am here to tell you about a collaboration between well-known competitors: General Motors and Honda, who have decided to pool their considerable resources to bring a commercially viable fuel-cell vehicle to market by the end of this decade.
Both companies have put considerable effort into this technology, amassing a total of over 1200 patents that were originally intended to exclude competitors from utilizing the innovations they cover. Now they have signed a “definitive master agreement” to co-develop technology related to fuel cells and hydrogen storage systems.
GM CEO Dan Akerson said, “We are convinced this is the best way to develop this important technology, which has the potential to help reduce the dependence on petroleum and establish sustainable mobility.”
GM has already built and field tested a fleet of 119 fuel cell vehicles that have accumulated a total of over 3 million road miles going back to 2007. Honda, meanwhile, has built 85 fuel cell vehicles, the FCX, which was followed by the FCX Clarity which was named World Green Car in 2009.
Earlier this year, Ford, Renault-Nissan, and Daimler forged a similar agreement in which they vowed to have a vehicle on the market by 2017. Part of the impetus behind these collaborations are the new stricter Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards and carbon emission limits.
Fuel cell vehicles are a type of electric vehicle but their “batteries,” which are the fuel cells, are recharged by filling a tank with compressed hydrogen gas. In this way, they are more like traditional gasoline-powered vehicles except that the only thing emitted from the tailpipe is water vapor.
Under the agreement, the two companies have agreed to share expertise, economies of scale and sourcing strategies for parts and materials, in the hope that this will make these vehicles more affordable, which most experts agree is the key to their entering the market as serious contenders. Certain specialty materials, like platinum catalysts and carbon fiber fuel tanks are presenting challenges to the affordability of these cars.
McKinsey & Co. estimates that by 2050, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) could account for as much as 26 percent of all vehicle sales. By that time, prices are expected to be comparable with hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
Earlier this week, an article in MIT Technology Review spoke of the comeback the fuel cells cars are making due to falling prices. Market research firm RNCOS estimates that fuel cell vehicle sales are ready to grow at a compound annual rate of 15 percent or more right now. Meanwhile, fuel cell-powered buses are already beginning to catch on across Europe.
Efforts like these, which are a combination of government and private sector actions, are helping to bring us to a more sustainable future.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.
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