The Basics of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

Electric car recharges

Forget the periodic table — hydrogen is taking over the automotive industry

While still in the early stages of development, hydrogen powered fuel cell cars are growing increasingly popular because of their maximum efficiency, extremely low emissions and their potential to transform and modernize the future of transportation. Following are a few basic facts about fuel cell cars, as well as hydrogen as an alternative fuel.

The Basics of Fuel Cells

A fuel cell is a conversion device. When used to power a car, it produces electricity by way of a chemical reaction when hydrogen fuel and oxygen are mixed. Unlike a battery which also supplies electricity, the fuel cell requires energy from an external source that must be replenished.  In this case, that external source is hydrogen fuel.   A battery, on the other hand, stores electrical energy within itself.

The Basics of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is number one — on the periodic table of elements, that is. It's believed to be the most abundant element in the universe.  However, it's almost never found alone in its pure form in nature. It usually exists as a bond with other elements (h40, for instance). Hydrogen is considered an energy carrier, and not a source of energy, so it must be separated from other compounds to be produced in a useable form. In the U.S., hydrogen is made from methane or natural gas. When created as an alternative motor fuel, it can have as much energy as gasoline. Plus, hydrogen can be produced domestically with resources such as natural gas, coal or solar energy.

The Benefits of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

Hydrogen fuel cell cars can be extremely efficient — in some cases two to three times more efficient than a conventional gasoline powered car. Some fuel cell cars have a driving range of almost 250 miles before needing to be refueled. Additionally, they are among the cleanest vehicles on the road. Water vapor and heat are the only byproducts of the fuel cell process.  Hence, hydrogen fuel cell cars do not create harmful emissions that cause air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Availability of Hydrogen Fueling Stations

Unlike electric vehicles which run exclusively on batteries, hydrogen fuel cell cars do not need to be plugged in. As we mentioned earlier, they use electricity which is created by a fuel cell and that process begins with hydrogen fuel. Currently in the United States, there is a limited amount of hydrogen fueling stations. Even though California has a number of hydrogen fueling stations, they're not located in every state. As more and more stations become available, however, the adoption rate of hydrogen fuel cell cars should increase.

Availability of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

At present, there is only one hydrogen fuel cell vehicle commercially available to the public. It is a sedan model by Honda classified as a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV). It is only available in California where it can access a greater number of hydrogen fueling stations. According to Honda's website, the company is working to develop an energy system that would allow the car to be refueled at home.

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