Hydrogen fuel cells as a clean alternative for vehicles could be a big part of the future of the automotive industry. It could also be a fad that quickly fades away.
These cars convert hydrogen into electricity from the fuel cell, giving the vehicle instant acceleration without producing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Manufacturers place the hydrogen fuel tanks within the frame of the vehicle to protect them from an impact.
The current market for hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles is limited to Southern California, Hawaii, and other select locations with public station availability. Some automakers and government officials want to make this technology more available throughout the United States.
Is Hydrogen Fuel a Clean Alternative?
Although hydrogen fuel doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions when driving, we currently make this fuel by breaking down the molecules found in natural gas. Most of what gets made come from oil refinement or ammonia manufacturing.
That means the emissions are upfront with hydrogen instead of being user-generated.
We do have the option to create hydrogen from water, but that process is more expensive than the methods used to split atoms from natural gas.
Here are some other facts you’ll want to know about hydrogen fuel cells before considering a vehicle with this technology.
- About 7,500 hydrogen fuel cell cars are on the road.
The United States has roughly 40 retail stations that provide hydrogen fuel for cars equipped with this technology. Most of them are in California and Hawaii, but there are also locations in Michigan, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Connecticut. Drivers go up to the pump, fuel up, and pay like they would with gasoline or diesel.
- You must prove that there is a local station available.
Before automakers allow you to purchase a vehicle with hydrogen fuel cells, you must provide evidence that a local public fueling station is available.
- Only one private station currently exists in Arizona.
There is currently one private provider of hydrogen fuel in Arizona, located just south of the airport. Businesses that don’t offer public access are refueling options for forklifts, buses, and other forms of public transportation that use this option.
- The cost of fuel cells is going down.
Hydrogen fuel cells cost 60% less today than they did in 2006. Many of the reductions are due to government-funded research that increased electrode performance. Electrode assemblies are more durable now, and the development of catalysts has helped the technology last for up to 120,000 miles before requiring a replacement.
What Is the Future of Hydrogen Fuel Cells in the Automotive Industry?
Elon Musk calls hydrogen fuel cells a “stupid” technology, although this perspective might be because it directly competes with Tesla’s approach. Toyota and Honda see it as the future of the industry.
Most automakers fall between these two perspectives. As availability rises and costs go down, there could be more interest in this technology. It has already proven to be useful in warehousing and public transportation. Transitioning to our roads seems like the next evolutionary step of the hydrogen fuel cell.