Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles slowly gaining popularity

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

For those of us over a certain age, say the word “fuel cell,” and we immediately think of the movie Apollo 13 and the phrase “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

In case you don’t recall, the explosion on the spacecraft was caused by a faulty oxygen tank feeding the fuel cell that provided power for American moon missions.

Say the word “hydrogen,” and many will think of the radio announcer exclaiming “Oh, the humanity” as the Hindenburg airship burst into flame in New Jersey.

Perhaps it’s because many buyers are too young to remember, or the realization that gasoline is explosive as well, but hydrogen-fed fuel cell vehicles are beginning to appear on the streets of places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County, California, where fueling stations are available.

About half of the 6,000 fuel-cell vehicles sold so far have been sold in the United States, despite Europe having many more fueling stations, according to “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles: A Global Analysis.” Korea and Japan have the most hydrogen fueling stations so far.

That includes about 2,400 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles sold in the first three quarters of 2017.

Mainstream manufacturers like Toyota, Lexus, Hyundai, Kia, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are competing for market share, along with other, lesser-known brands.

Proponents of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles point to the efficiency and silence of fuel cells, dependability because they have no moving parts, and cleanliness, because they produce only water as a waste product.

Much hydrogen comes from fossil fuels these days, but it can be produced by solar, wind or hydropower, opening up production to almost anywhere in the world.

Price and availability of fuel are keeping hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from widespread use so far, but the economy of scale that can be achieved through mass production of electronic components, make this new mode of transportation something worth watching.

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