Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been catapulted onto the alternative fuel world stage with enthusiasm. Running automobiles on an unlimited supply of water containing hydrogen captures imaginations. This particular alternative fuel technology, however, may be a case of what most scientists and engineers come know, that is, most any technological feet is possible, but at what cost? The more critical aspects of cost and viability in real world applications outweigh the novelty of the achievement.
Have you ever wondered why there canâ€™t be a cheaper, cleaner way to power your car? The truth is that there are many in the works, behind the scenes in the automotive industry. One very promising technology that could replace gas, and help lower fuel costs, is hydrogen fuel cell technology. Whatâ€™s that, really? Itâ€™s a method of converting water into energy for your car, rather than using costly, polluting gasoline.
So how does it work? Hydrogen may be used in an internal combustion engine configured to run on liquid hydrogen though most of the talk is about using hydrogen in fuel cells to generate electricity. A fuel cell is an electromechanical device which uses hydrogen combined with oxygen to produce electricity. That electricity, in turn, drives the electric motors that propel the car. Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are thus electric vehicles.
Fuel cells were a part of the Apollo Mission in 1964, employed to run the on board electronics of the lunar module, yet in the intervening years since they have gained little ground in real world automotive applications. Honda has leased a single FCV to a carefully screened Southern California family. This is the only Honda FCV being driven by any non industry citizen in the country. They refuel at a plant nearby, one of a handful in the country.
The source for hydrogen can be water, the most abundant resource in the world as advocates of this technology will point out. Hydrogen exists nowhere in a pure state, however, and must be isolated from compounds that contain a hydrogen element. This process is energy intensive. Obtaining hydrogen from water requires splitting the molecule apart via electrolysis. This is the second most common method for obtaining hydrogen. Currently the lionâ€™s share (95%) of all hydrogen produced in the U.S. comes from natural gasÂ through a process called steam methane reforming (SMR).
Why is hydrogen overwhelmingly derived from natural gas, and not water? The answer lies in the cost of procuring hydrogen through energy-intensive electrolysis. Acquisition through electrolysis of water may become more appealing when scarcity and higher costs of natural gas alter the equation. Using electricity generated from renewable sources is possible as advocates suggest, but this is an inefficient use of that electricity when compared with other alternatives.
The logic in using natural gas or other energy sources to create hydrogen when instead those sources could be used directly to power a vehicle seems questionable. Introducing an added stepâ€”converting natural gas or electrolyzing waterâ€”requires more energy. The energy will come from fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, oil, or other renewable sources. However, technology is constantly advancing, and there may be a day, soon, where you can skip the pump, and power your car from the water hose outside.Help us spread the word and keep this site free. Just click the share this page buttons and share with your friends.