In today's society, many are talking about the advantages of hydrogen fuel and taking it into consideration as an alternative energy medium. The National Hydrogen Association wants the USA to reduce the dependence on imported fuels, improve the environment, and drive economic growth by becoming more hydrogen efficient.
What is Hydrogen Fuel?
Hydrogen does not occur free in nature in useful quantities, but it is manufactured in a number of ways. It can be made from natural gas or it can be made by passing electric current through water.
Advantages of Hydrogen Fuel
When hydrogen is burned, the only emission it makes is water vapor, so a key advantage of hydrogen is that when burned, carbon dioxide (CO2) is not produced. Clearly, hydrogen is less of a pollutant in the air because it omits little tail pipe pollution. Hydrogen has the potential to run a fuel-cell engine with greater efficiency over an internal combustion engine. The same amount of hydrogen will take a fuel-cell car at least twice as far as a car running on gasoline.
Cars Propelled by Hydrogen Fuel Cells
There are companies which have been, and continue to work on, developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars. Many of these have invested billions of dollars into the study of cars that are more environmentally friendly.
Honda has created the Honda FCX. This car omits only water vapor as it is:
- Propelled by electricity
- Generated by hydrogen fuel and an ultracapacitor (an energy storage device)
The BMW 7 Series Large Sedan is one car that BMW has come up with to promote its Clean Energy program. The car manufacturer announced that next year it will begin trials of a new 6.0-liter V12 gasoline-hydrogen-powered model of the 7 Series.
While many of the advantages of hydrogen fuel are clear, the disadvantages must be noted as well. Currently, it still costs a considerable amount of money to run a hydrogen vehicle because it takes a large amount of energy to liquefy the fuel. Filling up a car with compressed hydrogen gas will probably prove to be more practical and may also reduce the distance between fills. Research shows that cars could store hydrogen in high pressure tanks like those used for compressed natural gas. It would need to be packed tightly into a car's tank in order to avoid countless trips to the filling station every few miles.
The Department of Energy's goal is to produce hydrogen at $2 to $3 per gallon by 2015. Right now, the cost per gallon is between $6 and $8, in large part due to the cost of natural gas being high. As stated earlier, hydrogen can be produced from water, but in some parts of the USA, due to expensive grid electricity, that isn't economical.
Alternative Methods to Produce Hydrogen
Wind, solar (photovoltaic cells), and nuclear hydrogen could be possibilities for alternative forms of producing hydrogen. Another form of technology is the use of electrolysis. This method uses an electric current to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.
In the Near Future
Will we be seeing more cars run by hydrogen fuel in the near future?
Although once thought to be the fuel of the far-off future, hydrogen will be making a big debut next year and in the years to follow.
- Honda has plans to showcase a limited line of passenger cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells in 2008. They also have a new hybrid car that will be priced below $25,000.
- GM has announced plans involving hydrogen vehicles.
- Mercedes will begin in 2010 with a small-scale production of the B-Class F-Cell vehicle.
Additionally, gas stations will have to get on board and supply hydrogen as well as gasoline at the pumps in order to make owning and driving these cars practical for the consumer.
The Last Word
Many economists believe that although hydrogen cars may become more popular, it may be another decade before we see these vehicles in mass quantities on the market place. There is still more research to be done, and a number of hurdles to jump before hydrogen propelled vehicles are a common sight on all of our highways.