With the news that China may be shifting focus from battery vehicles to developing hydrogen fuel cell technology, I think it’s time to consider some important questions regarding vehicles propelled by the #1 element of the periodic table.
1. Can You Hoon?
Hydrogen Fuel Cells use a chemical reaction (basically Hydrogen + Oxygen = Water) to generate electricity, which is then fed to an EV motor. Given recent advancements in EV hooning technology, the answer is a definitive yes.
2. Can You Wrench?
Someday the future is going to have 200k miles on the odo and be deteriorating in driveways around the world. Can you wrench it? Most of the mechanicals on our hypothetical future hydrogen daily drivers will be wrenchable under traditional circumstances. The big difference will be if you need to service the hydrogen storage system or the fuel cell, which does the actual converting of stored chemical energy to electrical current. In that case, you will have to vent any hydrogen remaining in the system (using an electrically grounded venting rig), then flush the pipes with clean inert gasses like helium and nitrogen. With a little effort and safety training, you should be able to keep yourself AND your garage from going up like the hindenberg. I mean it’s either that or working with high voltage batteries amirite?
3. Is It Good?
Where the rubber meets the road, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle emits two things: freedom and good old H2O. Imagine driving a feisty, zero emissions* AWD hot hatch with the torque needed to pull that pop up camper all the way to Valhalla. This is a future I can get behind.
The Toyota Mirai, a real hydrogen fuel cell car that currently drives around real California, claims it takes five minutes to fill the tank at the pump. That’s great compared to slower battery charge times. Also, hydrogen in a tank avoids the problem of range drop in cold weather experienced by battery vehicles. Both are great news if Valhalla is more than 250 miles away or located in New England.
4. Does it Fix the Environment?
That’s... up for debate. It all comes down to how the hydrogen is produced. Right now hydrogen is (relatively) affordable because it is made from natural gas. The Union of Concerned Scientists think that it is generally ok to good, depending on how the hydrogen is produced.
A skeptic might point out that there is no hydrogen infrastructure outside California in the US, or that the very ok looking Toyota Mirai sedan starts north of $58,000. Those variables will necessarily change with investment and adoption. Ultimately green energy can be stored either in a battery or in a tank of hydrogen. Which will be better for the environment in 2100 and beyond? I’m not sure. But having options for those future E28 sleeper swaps can’t be a bad thing.
Will the future be hydrogen? So long as we can keep the fueling stations from exploding, the answer is a big maybe!