The research by Maric, who is internationally recognized for her work with fuel cells, thin films and nanomaterials technology, could not have come at a better time. Several major auto manufacturers are in the process of developing their own hydrogen fuel cell cars. Honda and Mercedes-Benz are already leasing them to customers in Southern California while Toyota and Hyundai plan to bring out their own models by 2015. General Motors, meanwhile, has produced a limited number of hydrogen-powered SUVs, some of which have been leased to the military.
Much of the interest for hydrogen fuel cell cars has been thanks to California’s clean air rules, which have forced car buyers in the state to think more seriously about investing in non-polluting vehicles.
The state’s powerful Air Resources Board issued rules in February this year which, when finally approved, will mean that by 2025 one of seven new vehicles on California roads—1.4 million altogether—must be zero-emission. By 2050, it hopes, four of five cars will be powered by batteries or hydrogen.
Car makers say they have already managed to slash the cost of building their prototype fuel cell cars. Even so, with the prices starting at around $100,000 they remain way too expensive to be commercially viable.