A hydrogen car is a car that uses hydrogen as the source of driving power fuel. In such a car, the chemical energy stored in hydrogen is converted to mechanical energy which propels the car. This is done by burning the hydrogen in the internal combustion engine. It can also be done in a fuel cell where hydrogen is reacted with the oxygen to run the electric motor.
Hydrogen fuel is not considered as an energy source but rather, an energy carrier since it doesn’t occur naturally. It must be made from other sources which include methane and other fossil fuels. It can also be produced from the electrolysis of water.
Currently, hydrogen cars have not been availed for consumers. However, many companies have displayed their potential models to the customers as they constantly research into improving the qualities of the cars and minimizing the costs. The available models are only for demonstration purposes and can not be used by the consumers. The set record for the land speed of a hydrogen car is 286.476 mph (461.038 km/h). For a production-style hydrogen car, the current set record is 333.38 km/h (207.2 mph).
The earliest hydrogen car was the Revolution. The car was manufactured by Hypercar, Inc. (currently known as Fiberforge). Even though the project was not successful, it gave an insight in production of ultra-lightweight cars through the use of carbon composites. DaimlerChrysler Company is currently working on the Mercedes F-Cell cars which are powered by compressed hydrogen. The company also made known the production of Mercedes-Benz A-Class which is powered by hydrogen. Also available is the F600 Hygenius Concept Car powered by hydrogen fuel cell. The car is equipped with a 240 Volts outlet which can power it for two hours. The F600 Hygenius has a range of 250 miles and delivers 115 hp. Honda is not left out in this new technology. It has developed the hydrogen cars certified by California Air Resources Board and the Environmental Protection Agency (CARBEPA). On the other hand, Toyota has introduced FINE-S hydrogen car which is driven by the hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid-electric powertrain. BMW has released HR2 which they claim to be the world’s fastest hydrogen car. The car is capable of moving at a speed exceeding 185 mph. Even though most hydrogen cars use fuel cells, H2R uses a combustion engine (modified 6-liter, 12-cylinder combustion engine)
The rising fossil fuel problem has faced the world with various challenges. Also, the problems associated with global warming calls for very serious and immediate actions. Hydrogen cars present solutions. The advantages of hydrogen cars include:
The cars have no emissions given out as compared to the gasoline cars which emit greenhouse gases (carbon and sulphur). The only emission given out by hydrogen cars is water vapour. Due to this, the introduction of hydrogen cars will greatly reduce the greenhouse gas emission as it purifies and improves the quality of air.
Several sources of hydrogen exist. It can be produced from natural gas, coal, and oil. It can also be made available from biomass e.g. livestock waste, landfill waste, and wastewater sludge. Also, hydrogen can be produced from natural elements including wind, water, and sunlight.
As compared to other engine drivers, hydrogen is very efficient. The energy density per unit mass of hydrogen is higher compared to gasoline. At the same time, the energy density per unit volume of hydrogen is low. As a result, hydrogen cars need a small fuel in travelling greater distances as compared to gasoline cars.
With hydrogen cars, various consumers will be independent. Currently, there is overdependence on oil. The oil suppliers enjoy monopoly and can dictate the oil prices as they wish. A shift to hydrogen cars will create independence as the hydrogen sources are numerous.
Currently; coal, natural gas (oil), and nuclear is used in the production oh hydrogen. All these methods contribute to environmental pollution. For hydrogen cell fuel to be produced, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide must be emitted. Hence, there is very little difference, if any, on environmental pollution.
Another method that is used in the production of hydrogen is the electrolysis of water. This is a very clean method that does not pollute environment in any way; however, it is too costly.
Electric motors are needed by hydrogen fuel cells. Copper is greatly used in the production of such motors. However, the limited supply of copper makes it completely difficult to manufacture hydrogen cars in large scale. Aluminum can be used as a replacement for copper; however, it occupies a lot of space.
Hydrogen cars need a change infrastructure. The hydrogen fueling stations must be constructed. Also, the distribution channels must be put in place for the widespread distribution of hydrogen. This must surely be expensive.
The future of car industry revolves around the hydrogen power. However, this technology is very expensive and the challenge is to develop less expensive cars and a refueling infrastructure which can support consumers. According to experts, the public will start enjoying this technology in three to ten years time.
F. Kreith "Fallacies of a Hydrogen Economy: A Critical Analysis of Hydrogen Production and Utilization". Journal of Energy Resources Technology 126: 249–257, 2004.
Galbraith, Kate and Matthew L. Wald. "Energy Goals a Moving Target for States", The New York Times, December 4, 2008
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Research. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy. September 2009. http://www.nrel.gov/hydrogen/proj_wind_hydrogen.html. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
Romm, Joseph. "Climate and hydrogen car advocate gets almost everything wrong about plug-in cars", The Energy Collective, October 6, 2009
Suplee, Curt. "Don't bet on a hydrogen car anytime soon". Washington Post, November 17, 2009
Wrigglesworth, Phil. "The car of the perpetual future"' September 4, 2008, retrieved on September 15, 2008