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Four Dollar A Gallon Gas Fueling Hope For Hydrogen

2007 Honda FCX
AP
2007 Honda FCX

When gas prices spike, the public finally opens its eyes to alternatives. It happened in the mid '70's when compact cars became big sellers. It's happening again today with hybrids flying off of lots. But with this surge in prices at the pump, I'm hearing more and more people talk about hydrogen fuel cell powered cars and SUVs.

Some of this is fueled (pardon the pun) by the public's hope that there's something on the horizon to help the country run on a fuel cheaper than gas. But there's also the fact several automakers are rolling models powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Toyotajust announced it will introduce a fuel cell vehicle in Japan later this year with a range of up to 516 miles. Honda's FCX Clarity will be leased in California starting next month. And GM's project driveway has people around the country driving Hydrogen fuel cell models every day.

With all that activity, it's not surprising some think we're on the cusp of hydrogen models taking off. But the fact is, we're still many years from seeing these vehicles in large numbers around the country. Yes, I know I will hear from many bloggers who think that I'm trying to dampen enthusiasm for alternative powered cars and trucks. Sorry Charlie, that's not the case. I'm simply stating the facts.

As exciting as the prospects for Hydrogen fueled cars may be (and the possibilities are mind boggling), we lack two things to make them a mass market reality. Infrastructure and cost effective production. Right now, there are limited places to drive these cars, mainly California and some east coast cities, because there are so few hydrogen re-fueling stations.

It will take many years to build more through out the country. And while the current fuel cell vehicles are encouraging, they are limited production models that are still quite expensive to build. Heck, Honda is leasing it's FCX for $600 a month. Yes, there's a small pool of people ready to pay that monthly lease, but if Honda tried offering that price to 20,000 or 30,000 people around the country, I'm not sure that would happen.

The point of all this is to say that high gas prices will stir up a lot of interest in hydrogen, electric, non-corn based ethanol fuels. Just remember, harnessing those possibilities on a mass scale remains years from happening.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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