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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles
When it comes to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs for those in the know), there are two questions that consistently come up. Whether you're new to the alt-fuel realm or have been following it for years, these questions still need answering.
Are there any available car models that use a hydrogen fuel cell?
This question is always being asked because, well, the field of HFC vehicles changes.. often. Currently, just about every major auto manufacturer in the world is tinkering with, testing, or producing limited quantities of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Some are large, some are small, all of them are innovative.
Here are a few of them with links for more information:
- Audi Q5
- BMW Hydrogen 7
- GreenGT LMP H2
- Honda FCX Clarity
- Hyundai FCEV Tucson
- Kia Borrego FCEV
- Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell
- New Holland NH2
- Riversimple Fuel Cell
- Toyota Highlander FCV
- Vision Motors Tyrano HFC Truck (pictured)
That's a list for starters. Most of the above are in testing or limited production. Some, such as the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell and the Honda FCX Clarity, are available for lease within the United States in select locations. Most manufacturers will be rolling fuel cells into full production in 2013-2015.
What’s in the future for hydrogen fuel cell cars?
This is another good question and, frankly, the subject of heated discussion amongst alt-fuel pundits. Pure electric enthusiasts believe that the future belongs to battery electric cars. Fuel cell proponents believe in the "Hydrogen Future."
The reality will likely fall somewhere between. The battery electric vehicle (BEV) has limitations that, to put it bluntly, consumers are not willing to put up with for the most part. Range being the largest of those, but the inconvenience (small as it is) of recharging is another issue.
People for several generations now have been driving their car, parking it, then driving it again and only worrying about fuel when the little gauge on the dashboard starts to get low. They then pull into a station, swipe their credit card, pump some gas, and five minutes later are back on the road. With electrics? Charge times are typically close to 8 hours and it requires the owner to park, extend a cord from the car or the wall and plug everything in, then unplug it hours later when it's ready to go. That's a fundamental change in how people view their automobiles and it won't come easily.
With hydrogen, the limitations are all about the costs: currently, hydrogen fuel cells are expensive - very expensive. Many innovations are being made to change this fact and some of them will potentially drastically lower the cost of the HFCV, but probably not for a few years yet. Otherwise, the HFCV is basically the same (from the user's perspective) as a conventional gasoline or diesel car. You fuel it when it needs it and it takes four or five minutes to do so.
Of course, BEV pundits will also point out "energy transference losses" and so forth, but the common man on the street doesn't understand or really care about those things. He cares about how easily he can fuel and drive his vehicle and how much it will cost him to purchase and run it.
For all intents and purposes, a hydrogen fuel cell and a battery electric vehicle are basically the same vehicle. Both use electricity to propel the car, both are very environmentally friendly compared to gasoline or diesel vehicles, and both have the same basic drive train. All that's different is the way the electricity is stored. In a BEV, it's chemically stored in a battery. In an HFCV, it's stored as compressed hydrogen.
The future of hdyrogen vehicles is not clear, but one thing is for sure: it's likely that they will play a large role in the coming alt-fuel revolution that is moving through the world. Our dependence on petroleum will finally begin to dwindle as these alternatives become more and more common in our daily lives.
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