The AP has this story today about Ford’s 12-passenger airport parking lot shuttle buses, that operate on an engine powered by hydrogen.

“We really believe this technology is ready to be evaluated at the consumer level,” John Lapetz, the company’s program manager for the buses, told reporters on Tuesday at an event staged to tout Ford’s future vehicles.

About 30 E-450 Hydrogen shuttle buses are working across the U.S. and Canada, and Ford engineers are monitoring them electronically in real time, Lapetz said. The vehicles, powered by a modified gasoline engine, have near zero emissions and get up to 13 percent better fuel economy than their gasoline counterparts, he said.

Lapetz said Ford has the ability to bring internal combustion hydrogen technology to market in cars within five years. But that’s only if fuel storage limitations can be solved, public fear of hydrogen can be allayed, filling stations set up, and gas prices stay high.

That time frame is reasonable, Gurpreet Singh, team leader for engine and emission control technologies with the U.S. Department of Energy, said Tuesday.

“You’re taking the base gasoline engine and modifying that. You don’t need to have anything that’s very exotic,” he said.

The Energy Department also says hydrogen can be used as safely as other common fuels if handled properly. The buses’ range is limited to 150-200 miles by fuel storage technology, and they cost far more than the roughly $70,000 Ford charges for shuttles powered by gas engines.

Despite the small amount of pollution, the internal combustion hydrogen engines have another advantage, and that is a far lower cost than fuel cells, Lapetz said.

“It doesn’t have the sizzle of a fuel cell, but it’s got the steak of the meal,” he said.

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