Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology Explained

You’ve probably already heard whispers of hydrogen fuel cell technology. They’ve been floating about on the lips of auto industry experts for a few years now. Many are predicting it will be the next huge change in driving. Others think it’s an experiment doomed to failure. Whatever the future holds, you’re about to hear a lot more about hydrogen fuel cells. In 2015, the world’s first road-legal hydrogen powered cars will hit our roads.

Toyota hydrogen fuel cell

The Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Tuscon look set to be the first on the market. But, there are plenty of questions alongside their release. Hybrid and electric cars are only just making a mainstream impact. Is the world really ready for the next step? Well, the answer is quite simply no. The infrastructure just isn’t in place for hydrogen power yet. Toyota understands this and it is introducing the Mirai as a tentative first step. If you’re still confused, we don’t blame you. Today we’ll look at hydrogen fuel cell technology in a bit more detail.

The current market – It has been over a decade since the world’s first hybrid took to the roads. The Toyota Prius was a bold new initiative and it was not universally welcomed. Over time the technology improved and customer behaviour changed. Nowadays you’ll find a hybrid car at every dealer in the country. From Lifestyle Ford to your local used car lot, hybrids have become commonplace. Even SUVs and sports cars are embracing the power of hybrid engines.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology – The trouble with hybrids is that they still have a combustion engine. You still fill it with fuel and it still drains the planet’s fossil fuels. It just does it a lot slower than before. Hydrogen fuel cells removes that entirely. It uses nothing but pure hydrogen – the most abundant element in the world. Inside the engine, a chemical reaction takes place that produces electricity. This powers the motor and the only emission is water. So far so green, right?

Infrastructure – You’ve probably noticed, but there aren’t a whole lot of hydrogen stations around. In fact, there are hardly any. In Ohio alone, there is just one to provide for the whole state. California has the most, but even by 2016 there will still only be 28. Producing the hydrogen isn’t easy either. Considering it’s the most abundant element in the world, it’s very difficult to harvest. It has to be separated from water by passing electricity through it. Obviously, this needs to happen on a huge industrial scale. This simply doesn’t exist yet.

Is it really greener? – Well, not yet. That process of extracting hydrogen requires huge doses of electricity. Currently the only way to produce that much is by burning fossil fuels. In a roundabout way, hydrogen fuel cell technology still burns fossil fuels.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s a fantastic leap into the future. It’s entirely reasonable to assume that hydrogen fuel cells is the way forward. Two things rest on its success. First, the infrastructure needs to catch up. Secondly, we need to power the extraction process with renewable energy like solar power. With the Mirai, the future is – yet again – in the hands of Toyota. If any car manufacturer can do it, Toyota can.