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How Hydrogen Cars Work

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Hydrogen fuel cells are reactors in which hydrogen and oxygen are combined to create water and electricity. In essence, they are a type of battery. Unlike standard batteries, however, you do not recharge them with electricity, but instead add more hydrogen.

For a general look at how hydrogen vehicles operate, see How Do Hydrogen Cars Work. In this article, we'll be looking specifically at hydrogen fuel cells and the chemical process used to create electricity within them.

With 17 major automotive makers currently working on fuel cell technology and with most of them planning to produce an HFCV (hydrogen fuel cell vehicle) by 2015. Because hydrogen can be produced from several sources and with breakthroughs in non-precious-metals-based catalysts, it's possible that HFC's could be a major player in the alternative fuels and vehicles market.

How the Fuel Cell Works

Most H2 fuel cells use a protein exchange. In each cell, layers of materials are stacked horizontally and hydrogen gas is sent through them. Those hydrogen atoms with a positive charge are separated from the negatively charged ones using a catalyst (platinum or one of the newer emerging materials).

The positively-charged H2 is sent through a polymer electrolyte membrane to the cathode while those negatively charged are sent through a circuit to the cathode. The two meet there and combine with oxygen, which is used as the "attractant" to cause all this movement. The 2 hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water (H2O) and are exhausted out of the cell.

By combining several cells into a stack, an array is created - similar to how batteries are combined to get a planned voltage.

Hydrogen Sources

Currently, the primary source for hydrogen gas is by burning natural gas (methane), which is 1:4 hydrogen:carbon. Other sources are also available, including electrolysis of water (splitting the H2O), new bacterial methods of splitting water and algae and sunlight combinations to produce H2 gas.

Hydrogen is one of the most common elements in the universe and is abundant here without need to mine, drill, or otherwise seriously disturb the environment to get it.

This site follows the emergence, application and development of transportation innovation. Reference to manufacturers, makes and models, and other automotive-related businesses are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement by FutureCars.com.

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