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What is a Hydrogen Car?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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A hydrogen car is simply a car that uses a hydrogen fuel cell by which to operate and generate its horsepower. The hydrogen car could be the future of cars, as alternative energies are being explored more and more, and hydrogen technology becomes increasingly practical. As more hydrogen car models come onto the market, the prices should come down, making the vehicles more attractive to the individual consumer.

One of the biggest drawbacks to hydrogen vehicles is a lack of available refueling stations. While there has been some introduction of hydrogen refueling stations in select places around the world, such as California in the United States, many geographical areas have no refueling areas for such vehicles. Therefore, the vehicles have no practical use outside a relatively small geographic area.

The obstacles to building refueling stations for a hydrogen car are significant. Essentially, it becomes a "chicken or egg" debate. Which should come first, the refueling stations for hydrogen vehicles or the hydrogen vehicle? In the end, there is no good answer to this question. Demand for hydrogen fuel will not come until there are plenty of hydrogen cars. However, there will not be many cars until there is a place for them to refuel.

As stated previously, hydrogen fuel cells are the main power source for a hydrogen car. These cells operate with a mix of oxygen and hydrogen. Together, in some cases, they produce an electrical current which is then used to power the engine. In actuality, a hydrogen car is not run by hydrogen directly, but by electricity being transformed into mechanical power. The difference between a hydrogen car and other electrical cars is that the power source is able to constantly regenerate itself onboard, as long as the hydrogen can be replaced. Hydrogen cars can also work by creating combustion, which is nothing more than a controlled explosion, for mechanical energy, much like traditional vehicles do with gasoline or diesel fuel.

There are two primary benefits to a hydrogen car. First, it does not produce the harmful gasses that gasoline and diesel cars produce, such as carbon dioxide, which contribute to the greenhouse effect, smog and other health hazards. Second, they are approximately three times more efficient in their energy conversion, when compared to traditional vehicles. Therefore, it is not only the type of energy they consume, but the way it is consumed that makes a significant difference in vehicle operation.

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Discussion Comments
By anon316663 — On Jan 29, 2013

If we can reach an economy of scale, the cost for hydrogen cars won't be a problem. But right now, no one is willing to take the lead in constructing hydrogen stations, which blocks the way for hydrogen cars.

By Babalaas — On Oct 06, 2010

@ FrameMaker- I think hydrogen cars are a great idea, but I believe it will be a little longer than a decade before hydrogen fueled cars are rolling out of Ford factories as production models. There are still a few major hurdles for the technology to overcome before they can be competitive on the market.

The first and most important hurdle to overcome is the availability of hydrogen fuel. Government will need to cooperate with private industry so that enough refueling stations can be created to support hydrogen vehicles. Fuel cell design will also need to improve so that they perform well in inclimate weather and harsh driving conditions.

Finally, Hydrogen fuel tank design will have to improve to increase consumer safety, and consumers will have to be educated about the risks of hydrogen fuel. This is not impossible, but it will require expensive public awareness campaigns; essentially retraining people to be aware of hydrogen gas safety issues.

By FrameMaker — On Oct 06, 2010

@ calabama71- The cost of hydrogen technology is one hurdle to making hydrogen vehicles a viable alternative fuel vehicle, but the costs will eventually come down. Hydrogen technology is still in its infancy compared to other alternative fuel technologies so as production becomes streamlined, fuel cells become cheaper, and fuel prices rise, hydrogen fuel vehicles will certainly gain market share. There are simply too many benefits of hydrogen cars. They are three times as efficient as gasoline and diesel vehicles, they are low maintenance, and their only emissions are pure water. I would not be surprised if you start to see hydrogen fuel cell cars in major car company showrooms in the next ten years.

By calabama71 — On Oct 04, 2010

I can see that the whole issue of hydrogen-powered cars is raising eyebrows. One thing that we must look at is the cost. There is, indeed, a high cost of hydrogen technology. Besides that, there are also costs with the production of the hydrogen fuel itself.

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