Exploring Hydrogen as an Alternate Fuel for Vehicles

The same stuff that can power rockets may be coming to your vehicle pretty soon. Hydrogen-powered cars used to be the stuff of science fiction, but it’s coming out in a big way for the rest of us. It’s known as fuel cell technology, given that the hydrogen has to be placed in a stable system in order for it to actually do the job. But is this stuff ready for prime time? Let’s look into that.

In order to power something, the hydrogen atoms within the fuel cell have to be separated from their electrons. This produces electricity and also forms water as a byproduct of the process. But in order for mainstream adoption to take place, things had to get a little more complex than that. You see, hydrogen is extremely difficult to store and even harder to transport properly. Despite these challenges, there’s been an increase in government incentives for the US.

Hydrogen-powered cars

The biggest problem facing hydrogen fuel cells is that there aren’t refilling stations easily available right now. Charging stations follow a pretty old model: we already know how to bring electricity somewhere, so charging a vehicle isn’t really that much different. But hydrogen is a completely different concept, so it requires a completely different supply chain.

Automakers are entering the fuel cell game, but it’s not because they have an overwhelming desire to benefit mankind here. It’s because the incentives are there for them to try to bring fuel cell vehicles to the marketplace. Currently, the government treats these fuel cell vehicles equivalent to their electric counterparts. In the state of California, it’s even worse: fuel cells give automakers the most ZEV (zero emission vehicle) credits for their investment. So this is really more of an effort to please shareholders than it is to please consumers, but the two goals are still connected. If they can increase consumer demand, then they will improve sales and protect this investment.  In 2017, the EPA will give both types of alternative vehicles an impressive credit multiplier of 2.0, covering the rest of an automakers fleet, and helping them cover the costs of investment. Multiple automakers have formed partnerships between each other, including BMW and Toyota, as well as GM and Honda. There’s a large partnership underway between Ford, Daimler, and Renault-Nissan.

Are you able to buy a fuel cell car right now? Not worldwide, and not even in every US state. You can purchase them in California, but the refueling stations aren’t widespread just yet. It’s a technology that still has a lot of room to grow. (more…)