Motorists dislike purchasing gas when the price keeps rising, but they cannot make their vehicles any more fuel efficient. Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been promoted as a promising alternative to our dependence on gasoline. But has there been any development in hydrogen fuel technology that can make it a viable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles? And what disadvantages does hydrogen fuel cells hold for the economy, the environment and the consumer?
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Fuel Cell Construction
Fuel cell construction, the actual manufacturing process, is very expensive. Hydrogen requires about 1,600 joules to produce and gives back about 1,000 joules of energy, contrasting with gasoline which uses 167 joules and yields 1,000 joules. Only prototypes and bus fleet studies have been implemented, primarily for testing. The actual application of working models for consumers is years down the road. The expense and production time factor has pushed the practical application of hydrogen fuel cell technology further into the future.
The electrolysis method of producing hydrogen needs water and electricity. Ninety per cent of U.S electricity requires the burning of fossil fuels--creating a conflict with the claims that hydrogen fuel usage remains environmentally friendly.
Hydrogen fuel exists in a gaseous state and can be very explosive if subjected to extreme heat or violent impact. It remains one of the most flammable substances on earth. This raises concerns of possible catastrophic accidents if hydrogen fuel cell vehicles become pervasive on U.S. roadways.
Developers have also been challenged with the need to store the hydrogen tanks on board the vehicle, since they take up so much more room than regular fuel tanks.
Vehicle Conversion Problems and Expense
Converting standard gasoline-powered engines to hydrogen cell technology is very expensive. The upfront costs may deplete any future savings from not having to fill up with gasoline. As of August 2010, no company has offered a feasible way to convert each and every vehicle on the road to hydrogen. Only general concepts on construction have been presented. It remains doubtful that consumers could safely learn how to install the technology correctly or with confidence.
Performance and Range
Since hydrogen comes in a gaseous state, a larger volume is needed to travel the same distance a typical gas-powered vehicle would need. The current prototype fuel cells last only 20 per cent, compared to gasoline engines. They remain cost deficient because hydrogen is more expensive to produce. Fuel-cell generated electricity costs thousands of dollars per kilowatt. Reductions of 10 to 1 would have to be made before savings are realised.
Since hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity, vehicles would need to run on powerful electric motors and battery packs. But the vehicles could only have a range that correlates with the size of its storage tanks, and they would have to be enormous to duplicate the range of gasoline-powered cars.
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