With the rise of usable electric cars in the marketplace, and markets around the world slowly phasing out the sale of fossil fuel cars, you could be forgiven for thinking that the age of the internal combustion engine is coming to an end. History is rarely so cut and dry, however, and new technologies aim to keep the combustion engine alive for some time yet.
One of the most interesting technologies in this area are hydrogen-burning combustion engines. In contrast to fuel cell technologies, which combine hydrogen with oxygen through special membranes in order to create electricity, these engines do it the old fashioned way – in flames. Toyota has recently been exploring the technology, and has announced a racecar sporting a three-cylinder hydrogen-burning engine will compete in this year’s Fuji Super TEC 24 Hour race.
The benefit of a hydrogen-burning engine is that unlike burning fossil fuels, the emissions from burning hydrogen are remarkably clean. Burning hydrogen in pure oxygen produces only water as a byproduct. When burned in atmospheric air, the result is much the same, albeit with small amounts of nitrogen oxides produced. Thus, there’s great incentive to explore the substitution of existing transportation fuels with hydrogen. It’s a potential way to reduce pollution output while avoiding the hassles of long recharge times with battery electric technologies. Continue reading “Toyota’s Hydrogen-Burning Racecar Soon To Hit The Track”→
In the race toward a future free from fossil fuels, hydrogen is rapidly gaining ground. On paper, hydrogen sounds fantastic — it’s clean-burning with zero emissions, the refuel time is much faster than electric, and hydrogen-fueled vehicles can go longer distances between refuels than their outlet-dependent brethren.
The reality is that hydrogen vehicles usually need fuel cells to convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. They also need pressurized tanks to store the gases and pumps for refueling, all of which adds weight, takes up space, and increases the explosive potential of the system.
In every comment section, there’s always one. No matter the electric vehicle, no matter how far the technology has come, there’s always one.
“Only 500 miles of range? Electric cars are useless! Me, and everyone I know, drives 502 miles every day at a minimum! Having to spend more than 3 minutes to recharge is completely offensive to my entire way of life. Simply not practical, and never will be.”
Yes, it’s true, electric cars do have limited range and can take a little longer to recharge than a petrol or diesel powered vehicle. Improvements continue at a rapid pace, but it’s not enough for some.
To these diehards, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may have some attractive benefits. By passing hydrogen gas through a proton-exchange membrane, electricity can be generated cleanly with only water as a byproduct. The technology holds a lot of promise for powering vehicles, but thus far hasn’t quite entered our daily lives yet. So what is the deal with hydrogen as a transport fuel, and when can we expect to see them in numbers on the ground?
About an hour’s drive from where this is being written there is a car plant, and as you drive past its entrance you may notice an unobtrusive sign and an extra lane with the cryptic road marking “H2”. The factory is the Honda plant at Swindon, it produces some of Europe’s supply of Civics, and the lane on the road leads to one of the UK or indeed the world’s very few public hydrogen filling stations. Honda are one of a select group of manufacturers who have placed a bet on a future for environmentally sustainable motoring that lies with hydrogen fuel cell technologies.
The trouble for Honda and the others is that if you have seen a Honda Clarity FCV or indeed any hydrogen powered car on the road anywhere in the world then you are among a relatively small group of people. Without a comprehensive network of hydrogen filling stations such as the one in Swindon there is little incentive to buy a hydrogen car, and of course without the cars on the road there is little incentive for the fuel companies to invest in hydrogen generating infrastructure such as the ITM Power electrolysis units that seem to drive so many of the existing installations. By comparison an electric car is a much safer bet; while the charging point network doesn’t rival the gasoline filling station network there are enough to service the electric motorist and a slow charge can be found from most domestic supplies. Continue reading “The Hydrogen Economy May Be Coming Through Your Cooker”→