You’ve probably been hearing a lot about electric vehicles already. However, there is another type of zero-emission transportation that releases just water vapor as it takes you down the highway. That vehicle is a hydrogen fuel-cell car.
Approximately 2.5 million EVs have been sold in the United States to date. In contrast, there should be 15,000 or fewer hydrogen-powered vehicles on US highways by mid-2022, with all of them based in California.
The Basics of Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles (HFCV)
To move its wheels, this vehicle employs the same type of electric motor as a battery-electric automobile. However, it is not powered by a massive, heavy battery.
It instead employs a fuel-cell arrangement in which purified hydrogen travels through a cell wall to react with oxygen from the surrounding environment. This mechanism generates the electricity that moves the wheels, as well as water vapor as a byproduct.
This means that an HFCV is really a series hybrid. HFCV drivers, in reality, refuel their vehicles’ tanks at hydrogen pumping stations. This concept is somewhat similar to the traditional gas station, with a five-minute fueling duration.
How Does It Drive?
The driving experience of an HFCV is nearly equal to that of a battery-electric car. However, it may not be one of the fastest. There is no gearbox, and regenerative braking is used to recover energy loss as the vehicle decelerates.
The challenge for auto engineers is that hydrogen cars perform best with constant power output. Yet, power needs in a standard car vary by magnitude, ranging from about 15 kilowatts to maintain a constant highway speed to roughly 20 times that number for maximum acceleration.
Furthermore, HFCVs are typically regarded as safe as any other car. While hydrogen naysayers sometimes point to the 1937 Hindenburg catastrophe, the hydrogen canisters and associated hardware would most likely survive even when the majority of the automobile got damaged.
In the relatively modest number of HFCVs sold to date, no fatalities or injuries have been linked to hydrogen elements. However, there are some drawbacks, the most significant of which is the scarcity of hydrogen fuel.
As HFCV drivers experienced in San Francisco in 2019, the network for providing hydrogen to retail establishments is quite poor. An incident cut off power to nine hydrogen plants, forcing the use of diesel vehicles to transport compressed hydrogen containers hundreds of kilometers overnight.