Thinking about filling up your vehicle with hydrogen can be pretty intimidating. Wasn’t the Hindenburg full of hydrogen? What about H-bombs? Is my car going to explode in the first fender-bender I get into? Will a faulty engine control unit or fuel pump send me flying? We’re going to talk a bit about the reality of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and hopefully dispel some myths about them as well.
A fuel-cell vehicle is a type of electric vehicle. It uses an electric motor to drive the wheels instead of a purely mechanical one. Today’s current electric vehicles use a heavy lithium-ion battery that takes hours and hours to re-charge – fuel cell vehicles generate electricity by creating a chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored in tanks as a compressed gas, and the oxygen is just oxygen from the air. The hydrogen tank can be re-filled just as you would re-fill at the gas station.
It works by catalyzing hydrogen – breaking down the hydrogen atoms into electrons and protons. The electrons create an electric current that creates the electric power used to power the vehicle. Then the electrons and protons are recombined with protons and oxygen to create water, the fuel-cell vehicle’s ONLY emission.
A fuel cell is made up of hundreds of these individual cells, wired together to create a cell large enough to power a full-sized vehicle. Fuel-cell cars also have a lithium-ion battery on board to store electricity from regenerative breaking, like many of the current electric vehicles in use today.
The best thing about fuel-cell vehicles is that the only emissions they create is water – no CO2, carbon monoxide, nitrous, etc etc. They are also more convenient than an electric vehicle because they can be re-filled like a regular gasoline engine, instead of needing to re-charge for hours like lithium-ion powered electric vehicles. Hydrogen is also exceedingly abundant on our planet and is a completely renewable resource – you can get it from practically anywhere!
Also, the hydrogen tank is no more dangerous to store on your vehicle than a tank full of gasoline. No need to conjure up images of a burning Hindenburg crashing to the ground.
The only problem with hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles currently is their prohibitively expensive cost and the lack of hydrogen re-fueling stations. But both of these issues can be rectified by furthering the technology and availability of hydrogen fuel cells.
As automakers look to the next era of “green” vehicles, keep an eye out for hydrogen-fuel cell technology as it could be coming to a gas station near you.