By Xavier Lam
Electric cars seem to be gaining a lot of traction over the years. Usually, we are familiar with regular battery powered cars such as Teslas, however there also exists the lesser known hydrogen fuel cell car.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Using hydrogen and oxygen, fuel cells combine the two to produce electricity, heat, and water. In a way, fuel cells are similar to batteries, as both use a chemical reaction to create power. However, fuel cells produce will never lose their charge, and produce electricity until the fuel, in this case hydrogen, runs out.
The great thing about hydrogen, is that it is abundant and can be made from renewable energy. Hydrogen is the simplest and most plentiful element in the universe. However, hydrogen is not naturally found as a gas on Earth and is usually combined with different elements. For example, water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen (H2O). Hydrogen can also be found in organic compounds such as hydrocarbons which make up fuels such as gasoline, natural gas, and propane.
Heat is used to separate hydrogen from hydrocarbons in a process called reforming. Today, most hydrogen is made in this process from natural gas. Additionally, electrical current can be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen in a process called electrolysis.
Hydrogen is high in energy, yet an engine that burns pure hydrogen produces almost no pollution. Rocket fuel is a major use of hydrogen fuel. NASA has used liquid hydrogen since the 1950s to propel the space shuttle and other rockets into orbit. Hydrogen fuel cells power the shuttle’s electrical systems, producing a clean byproduct of pure water, which the crew actually drinks.
These cars take the best parts from gasoline cars and electric cars and put them into one. Like gasoline cars, they have a long range and refuel quickly. Like electric cars, they are quiet and produce zero emissions. However, the downside are the high costs of the fuel cells and the need for hydrogen gas stations, which could be why these cars are currently uncommon. I actually went to the f-cell+HFC Conference in Vancouver last year, and was able to ride in a hydrogen fuel cell car. It will be interesting to see if these cars will be able to become commonplace or viable on the market.