Will you ever drive a hydrogen car? -
Hybrid and electric cars have become an ever more familiar sight on many city and suburban streets across the world. But what about the hydrogen car? Many clean energy and environmental activist have considered hydrogen fuel cell-powered transportation as the way of the future.
Fuel cells use stored hydrogen (instead of gasoline) and mixes it with oxygen to produce electricity to power the drive train. Much like a "conventional" electric car, but without the bulky, slow-charging, range-limited batteries.
In fact, fuel cells aren't necessarily that futuristic. The basic principle of what was to become a hydrogen fuel cell was first proposed in 1801 by chemist and inventor Humphry Davy. In 1839 William grove built the first "gas battery" or fuel cell. NASA could never have launched men into space, let alone land them on the moon, without space vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
But what about here on our city streets and country roads? If hydrogen is such a clean and abundant source of energy, why can't we drive hydrogen cars? The quick answer to that is you can. Toyota introduced the Mirai in late 2015, edged out by Hyundai's Tuscan released to the public in spring of 2015.
While the current crop of electric cars have their issues, among them range, battery size and recharging, they remain a more realistic choice among trend-setting car buyers. Hydrogen fuel cells are expensive to manufacture and, well, where do you go to fill up on hydrogen? Worldwide there are more than 5200 public EV charging stations and only about 58 hydrogen fueling stations.
It's true that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but when you get down to earth, isolating hydrogen requires work. Just like with battery-powered cars, how clean they are depends on the energy source. If you're recharging your Tesla with power generated from a coal-fired power plant then it isn't as clean as it may seem. Sure, there are no emissions from the car, but there are certainly emissions for the source of energy ultimately powering the car.
Likewise with hydrogen. Earthly hydrogen is typically bound to something else, like water (H2O) or natural gas. Most freed hydrogen in the United States comes reforming natural gas to split off the hydrogen atoms. Most hydrogen production is used for refining oil or producing ammonia for fertilizer production.
Undoubtedly, some of the initial buzz about hydrogen cars has worn off. There are significant technical, economic and infrastructure hurdles in the way of widespread adoption. But that isn't to say it will never happen. The non-profit environmental advocacy group INFORM suggests that "hydrogen is the key to sustainable transportation because it can be produced in virtually unlimited quantities from renewable resources and because its use is nearly pollution-free."
With enough investment in R&D, maybe one day you'll pull up to the local refueling station in your hydrogen fuel cell car, spend as few mintues "gassing up" and be off on your emissions-free, truly clean-energy-powered way.
Maybe one day.
The following infographic, courtesy of CarLeasingMadeSimple.com compares and contrasts the advantages and disadvantages of battery vs. hydrogen electric cars.
Image credit: Dave Pinter, courtesy flickr