For over 100 years, we’ve filled our vehicles with gasoline, a combustible liquid that is used to drive our vehicles forward. We’ve come to rely heavily on gas, something that is quickly becoming a burden on mankind. Gasoline, derived from oil, is expensive, and only recently have we got a much needed break from the surging prices, a break that is guaranteed to be brief. In addition to rising costs, burning fossil fuels like gasoline has been shown to create irreparable damages to the environment, creating harsher and more severe weather. With public demand growing for automakers to provide more options than gasoline vehicles, the industry has slowly been adapting.
The current bet for most is on electric vehicles. With advancements from companies like BMW, Chevrolet, and Tesla, the electric vehicle has gone from being a work of science fiction, to a functional reality. There are some who are holding out against electric vehicles, stating that range anxiety and other issues haven’t yet been met. So what are people looking for in new vehicles if they aren’t buying gas or electric?
There are a number of vehicle innovations that always seem to be just on the horizon. Flying cars, amphibious cars, driver-less cars, these innovations have been “coming soon” since the dawn of the automobile. Another such idea is the hydrogen-powered car. Only now, the hydrogen-powered car is real.
Getting Started With FCV’s
Aside from gasoline and electricity, many people believe the future of vehicle technology rests in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (or FCV). Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and is capable of being converted into electricity with the only by-product being water (hydrogen is Greek for water-former) .
The first major use of the fuel cell was in 1959. A basic fuel cell was used on a farming tractor, after discovering that in breaking the hydrogen atom, electricity was produced. Over the next few years, fuel cell research would be a key point in the international space race, with both the USA and Russia experimenting with the concepts. Eventually, lunar modules and capsules would go on to be powered by hydrogen.
The first true hydrogen-powered vehicle was created in 1966 by General Motors. The 1966 GM Electrovan was a van that was converted to run on hydrogen fuel cells. Unlike modern vehicles, the Electrovan only offered two seats, as the rest of the van was used for storage tanks and fuel cells. In the end, GM only produced one Electrovan before deeming the project too costly to continue. Hydrogen power remained in use for space exploration, but not much else. After the Apollo programs were shut down, engineers began finding work with other companies. This would lead to the eventual revival of the hydrogen FCV.
How Does It Work?
Hydrogen is a fuel for your vehicle, but not in the same way gasoline is. Hydrogen isn’t used in combustion, it is used to create electricity. Hydrogen fuel is stored in high pressure, carbon fibre tanks. The hydrogen is then pumped from the tanks to the fuel cell, where it is mixed with oxygen. The area where hydrogen mixes with oxygen is known as the fuel cell. The fuel cell has electrical components (an anode and a cathode, with an electrolyte between them) that can capture the generated electricity that comes from mixing hydrogen with oxygen. This electricity is then routed to an electric motor, which drives the car. As mentioned before, the only by-product from hydrogen-powered vehicles is water. Where a normal exhaust pipe is on a vehicle, hydrogen cars have a simple valve to let out water. Before you decide to attach a water bottle to the end of a hydrogen car, the vehicle will produce roughly the same amount of water as a regular gasoline engine, less than 1/3 of a cup, based on a full day of driving.
Getting Behind Hydrogen
If you’resold on the idea of using hydrogen you’ll soon have a very promising choice. In late 2015, Toyota plans to release the Mirai. While not the first full production FCV, it will be one of the only options for hydrogen available from a major automaker in the next few years to come.
Hydrogen Fuel Station
The Mirai is fueled just like a regular vehicle, with hydrogen being pumped into the tank via a fuel pump. While the process takes slightly longer than filling up a gasoline tank, the range of an FCV is comparable to that of modern ICE engines. Right now, the largest infrastructure of hydrogen refuelling stations is in California, but there are plans to expand the network on a global scale should the technology catch on. California has budgeted 100 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2020.
The Toyota Mirai will retail for just under $60k, making it easier to get into than the $80k+ Tesla. However, with both Tesla and GM planning to offer full electric vehicles at the $30k price point, hydrogen may have some catching up to do before being widely implemented.
It has been a long time coming, but it appears that mass use of hydrogen is finally on the horizon. There’s no denying the need to switch from our dependence on fossil fuels, and with modern developments in electronics, as well as government incentives, the pathway to the future appears clear. Only time will tell if hydrogen can beat out pure electricity to become the new fuel source of every day vehicles, but with the most recent effort from Toyota, it’s a real possibility.
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