A fuel cell car (or fuel cell electric) is a type of electric vehicle, which runs on a fuel cell instead of a battery. These fuel cells generate electricity to power the motor, generally pulling in oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen. Most fuel cell cars have zero emissions, emitting only water and heat.
These fuel celled-type vehicles have been used for a while in a lot of different types ways. They are mostly indoor vehicles where the exhaust isn’t allowed. The first hydrogen fuel cell automobiles commercially produced were created and sold by Toyota. Furthermore, fuel cell technology is still being developed and tested in buses, boats, motorcycles, and bicycles, among others.
As of early 2016, the hydrogen infrastructure is barely there, with 23 hydrogen fueling stations for automobiles publicly available in the U.S. More are planned, especially in California where these types of vehicles are more popular. The issue is, that critics don’t think hydrogen will be efficient or cost-effective for automobiles, as compared with electric and hybrid cars.
History of the Fuel Cell
Well before cars were invented, the first idea about the fuel cell was first created by Humphry Davy in 1801. He didn’t do much with it, as the first working fuel cell wasn’t developed until 40 years later by William Grove in 1842. He discovered that an electric current could be created by an electrochemical reaction of breaking the hydrogen atom.
The first example of this technology actually being used was in 1959 when an Allis-Chalmers farm tractor was fitted with a 15-kilowatt fuel cell. But it was the Cold War space race that really picked up the pace. Project Gemini tested fuel cells to provide electrical power during manned space missions
General Motors was the first car company to build the very first fuel-celled car in 1966, called the Chevy Electrovan. This vehicle could move at a speed of 70 mph and had a range of 120 miles before needing to be refueled. It didn’t have a lot of room, only holding two seats since the rest of the van space was taken up by the large fuel tanks in the rear. There was only one Electrovan created, as it was deemed too expensive and people wanted family-sized cars.
Because fuel-celled cars were determined to be too expensive, with a lack of infrastructure, the development of this type of technology remained used by the space program only. Even the space shuttle was powered by a fuel cell battery. Car companies stayed away until about the late 1990s and early 2000s when the technology became more viable.
Critics still don’t think this type of vehicle will take off into popularity, as electric cars are much more convenient, are developing more quickly, and has a better infrastructure. All you must do is plug in the battery and you’re good to go. There are also some concerns about accidents and what happens to the hydrogen gas if the worst was to happen. Because there are fewer fuel stations for this type of car, and it’s sold mostly in California and Japan, it’s unlikely to ever take off and become a prominent mode of transportation.