Everything You Need To Know About Hydrogen Cars

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If you're wondering how hydrogen fuel cell cars work, look no further

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Alternative propulsions systems are still relatively new, but they are a growing segment within the industry, with electric cars leading the way, while hydrogen cars and those that use synthetic gasoline are still lagging behind. While all seek to reduce environmental impacts and lower costs, some are just better positioned to thrive in the current socio-economic climate. The future of the automotive industry is still a little uncertain at the moment, and exactly which technology will end up on top is anyone's guess, since each offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages which may affect their appeal.

Hydrogen Car BMW

The Fundamentals of Hydrogen Vehicles

Hydrogen has been used as a fuel for space rockets for some time now, but the idea of pumping it into our cars is still relatively new. The first hydrogen combustion engine was actually developed in 1807 but the technology has never been widely adopted since. Instead, modern hydrogen vehicles rely on fuel cells. These are produced using rare metals like platinum, so they are quite expensive. But, they actually function very much like EV batteries in that they store electrical power, just in a different chemical composition - namely hydrogen and oxygen.

These two chemicals react with one another inside the cell to produce a significant amount of electrical energy, along with environmentally safe water vapor. However, as much as this sounds like a good thing, the production of these cells and the harnessing of pure hydrogen are expensive processes. And, this cost is not purely monetary.

The Impact of Hydrogen Cars on the Environment

One of the leading factors in alternative fuel research is reducing our carbon footprint on the world. Both electric and hydrogen-based propulsion are extremely green technologies, in that they produce zero harmful emissions. However, this does not mean they are completely harmless. Much of our electricity is still created using fossil fuels, and the process of extracting and refining hydrogen can be quite wasteful, too.

The most expedient way to do this is methane reforming, whereby both gases are superheated, splitting into hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. The latter two are harmful greenhouse gases, so this somewhat mitigates the good that hydrogen cars do. Reverse electrolysis is another method, which uses electricity to forcefully separate the bonds in the water. Unfortunately, the amount of energy needed reduces the efficiency of this option.

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Hydrogen Cars vs. Electric Cars

Since the two different systems are so closely related, and both work towards the same goal, there are definitely some similarities between hydrogen-powered and electric cars. Each offers its own specific advantages and disadvantages, though. Just a quick review of these differences may not show a clear winner, but here are the pros and cons of each:

HydrogenElectric
+More potential energy means longer driving ranges+Cheaper to create than the process that produces pure hydrogen
+Much easier to 'refuel'+Far more charging stations (more than 100:1)
+Batteries are easier and more eco-friendly to recycle+A lot more car options in the lineup of various manufacturers
-There is a lot of energy loss when between storing and drawing electricity from hydrogen-Long recharge times when not fast charging
-The byproduct of methane reforming is harmful to the environment-Fossil fuels are still used to create electricity in many places
Car Hydrogen Engine Toyota
Electric Engine Nissan

Cars That Rely on Hydrogen and Where to Find Hydrogen Car Stations

Since it is a relatively expensive technology, not many cars make use of hydrogen fuel cells. However, if you happen to drive one of the select few available for sale in the US, you'll need to know where to find suitable hydrogen car stations. If you're wondering how you charge a hydrogen car, it's actually not as complicated as with an EV. On the road, they use the same regenerative braking system as most hybrid/electric cars, but once you run out of 'fuel' you will need to find a station.

There are only a few dozen such stations in the USA, most of which are in California. Luckily, they are as easy to use as gasoline or diesel pumps. This is an advantage they have over EVs, apart from the ease of battery disposal when it finally expires. Over the last few years, the only cars that fall into this category include the:

Car Hydrogen Station Toyota
Refueling Toyota

FAQs

How do hydrogen cars work?

Since its discovery in 1807, the hydrogen-powered vehicle has advanced quite a bit. Now, this system works on a similar premise to electric cars, in that the battery uses a chemical reaction to convert potential energy, in the form of hydrogen, into electricity. This is directed towards the motors positioned on the axles, which develop horsepower and torque to drive the wheels. This is quite a bit different from how the first hydrogen engines worked.

Are hydrogen cars better than electric ones?

The impact of both cars on the environment is practically nil, and a deeper assessment is needed to determine which is truly better. Electric cars are far more commonplace, which means they have more available charging stations - Tesla cars have their own dedicated network, for example. This convenience alone makes them more popular, and the development of hydrogen fuel cells is rather pricey. This pushes up the price of these vehicles and the cost of refueling them.

How much does a gallon of hydrogen fuel cost?

Though hydrogen may be the most abundant element in the world, refining it into a fuel cell form is prohibitively expensive. It is still far cheaper to run a car on gasoline than hydrogen cells, but most drivers won't actually spend a cent on fuel. This is because most dealerships hand out fuel cards that should cover travel expenses for the first few years when leasing a fuel cell vehicle.

What are the disadvantages of hydrogen fuel cells?

As fascinating as hydrogen technology is, it does have some problems. For a start, there are very few cars that actually make use of it, and the network of refueling stations is minimal at best. But, by definition, it is a green technology, so the benefits may outweigh the cons. You will simply need to do your research.

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