Hydrogen fuel cell powered cars sound like something out of a Science Fiction novel – they run on a fuel that, upon consumption emits no greenhouse gases. They convert chemical energy into electrical then kinetic and from time to time its only by-product, water, needs to be discharged. Go back ten years and the thought of such an eco-friendly vehicle would be met with disbelief… In some countries, however, hydrogen fuel cell powered cars are very much a reality.

So why aren’t British roads full of ‘em? Two words: Hydrogen pumps. Unlike places such as Southern California, Germany and Japan, the UK has no consumer stations currently in service.

Add to that these three major problems with Hydrogen fuel powered cars. Firstly, hydrogen is expensive – very expensive. Secondly, to produce hydrogen at a petrol station requires a device the size of a bus or, if the petrol station is willing to fork out that bit more, a large car. Thirdly, hydrogen production normally relies on natural gases or other fossil fuels to be used up in the process of extracting the hydrogen, leading to obvious questions about its environmental credentials.

The good news though is that hydrogen fuel cell powered cars are on the increase with most major car manufacturers, including Hyundai and Honda, researching their feasibility. Honda have said it could start mass-producing cars based on its FCX Clarity (a fuel cell car currently only available in Los Angeles), by 2020.

As for the hydrogen pumps, 23 of them are currently operational in California with another 11 to follow shortly. Britain’s first consumer hydrogen pumps are scheduled for November 2010, along with the first hydrogen-powered buses arriving in Sunderland during the same month. Though they are just emerging from fiction, let’s hope eco-friendly cars aren’t too good to be true.

Chris Radford


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