Advantages & disadvantages of hydrogen motor vehicles

Written by wesley tucker
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Advantages & disadvantages of hydrogen motor vehicles
Hydrogen fuel provides possible alternatives to gasoline (off-road bio diesel / hydrogen powered limo image by monamakela.com from Fotolia.com)

Pure hydrogen appears to be the ideal fuel. Plentiful, renewable and containing tremendous potential energy, hydrogen could answer many questions for today's automobile market. Hydrogen, however, has drawbacks detracting any claim to being the perfect fuel. The science and engineering to overcome these drawbacks continues, and eventually hydrogen may be the long-sought replacement for oil and gas. In the meantime, however, its negative aspects equal if not surpass the positive attributes.

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Environment

Using hydrogen fuel in an internal combustion engine produces no exhaust pollution. The vehicle may still produce pollution from other sources (burning lubrication oil), but the hydrogen byproduct is not polluting.

When hydrogen is combined with air, the oxygen and hydrogen burn together and produce water. Hydrogen cars expel water (as either hot water droplets or hot water vapour) and whatever hydrocarbons burn inadvertently in the combustion process.

Renewable

Hydrogen is a renewable fuel source. Burning hydrogen produces water. Water can then be separated into its component parts (hydrogen and oxygen) and more hydrogen fuel produced. The cycle cannot be broken as the hydrogen/water/hydrogen process will not lead to chemical changes eliminating hydrogen extraction. Unlike petrochemicals such as oil, hydrogen can effectively be reused repeatedly as a car fuel source.

Availability

Although hydrogen-powered cars are now available, the infrastructure to support their operations is lagging far behind. Hydrogen is not pumped into a car as a gas but as a cryogenic (very cold) liquid. Finding hydrogen filling stations requires planning and compromise for driving any great distance. In many instances in the United States, certain locations are still unavailable for hydrogen-powered cars: Hydrogen filling stations are so far apart, the car does not have the driving range to make a round trip from the nearest pump.

Hydrogen production is not free. There are significant energy requirements to distil hydrogen. An electric current is passed through water, producing free hydrogen and oxygen. The lighter hydrogen rises above the oxygen and is collected and liquefied. Electrolysis and liquefying hydrogen is an energy-intensive process. This also impacts the availability of hydrogen in the free market.

Corrosion

Hydrogen is a volatile element and will easily combine with most other elements. This combining process produces different effects with different metal allows and materials. Pure hydrogen can corrode metals very quickly, and engineering solutions to this problem adds to the cost of a hydrogen-powered car. Simply replacing gasoline with hydrogen is not a feasible solution. Engines, fuel tanks and fuel systems must be engineered and manufactured exclusively for managing hydrogen fuel.

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