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Can Hydrogen Replace Gas in Auto Industry?
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Can Hydrogen Replace Gas in Auto Industry?

The human love affair with cars seems destined to last. In addition to convenience, speed, and travel independence, cars now offer all the safety and luxury that modern technology has to offer. From wi-fi to GPS to satellite radio, our cars have become extensions of ourselves as well as places of relaxation and refuge.

Most of the world's scientists are in agreement that climate change poses a threat to the planet, and that fossil fuel emissions from cars is a leading cause. Science and manufacturing technology are finding new ways to use hydrogen to preserve the planet without sacrificing our satisfying long-term relationship with cars. The cars of the future will depend on fossil fuels even less than many of today's hybrids. Climate change promises to make the transition to other forms of energy like hydrogen more rapid.

Trailblazers in Hydrogen Technology

Ferdinand Porsche invented the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle way back in 1901. However that technology wasn't fully utilized and hybrid-electric vehicles weren't widely available until 1997. Since then, sales of hybrid vehicles have surpassed 10 million. The Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight led the way, and now nearly all major car manufacturers offer a hybrid or electric model. One of the driving forces has been the substantial savings on gasoline, both economic and environmental. Toyota and Honda are now leading the way towards hydrogen-powered vehicles the Toyota Mirai and the Honda FCV, followed by the Hyundai Tuscon.

The Toyota Mirai promises a range of 312 miles (502 km) with a fuel economy rating of 66 miles per gallon, which will make it the most fuel efficient vehicle rated by the EPA. Sales of the Mirai began in Japan in December, 2014 and in the United States in August of 2015 at a price of $57,400. Another trailblazer in hydrogen powered cars is the new Honda FCV , which boasts a range of 435 miles. Design improvements have also moved the cylinders to give the vehicle five usable seats. The Hyundai Tucson FCEV is an improvement upon the Santa Fe. It's the only hydrogen-powered car that has been mass produced and can be leased. Currently, there are about 620 hydrogen fueling stations worldwide, with the majority of those in the United States being located in California.

Hydrogen Science

Most people don't realize the number of ways hydrogen fuel cells have already been utilized to power everything from forklifts to spacecraft. Hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen fuel and oxygen into water rather than carbon emissions. Some of the obstacles to mass production of hydrogen powered vehicles included the cost of the process of separating the hydrogen and safety concerns. While hydrogen is a clean and resource, it is also potentially flammable and explosive.

New methods that don't involve the use of fossil fuels to separate and isolate hydrogen molecules are currently being developed. One alternative method is using solar or hydroelectric power to fuel the electrolysis process. Another process, called photolysis, uses the chlorophyll and enzymes produced by algae to split sea water into hydrogen and oxygen, also shows promise.

Regarding safety concerns, advances in valve technology have been extremely important due to the small molecular size of hydrogen. Magnetic particle (MT) examination is a process used to detect any casting irregularities and is performed in accordance with ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) standards. All API 6D valves used for hydrogen pipelines must be pressure tested with helium to meet safety criteria. Hydrogen seals that can withstand high temperatures require graphitic packing. Rather than using gaskets, leaks are eliminated by customized welded bonnet valves (help with terminology here).

Costs and Benefits

While the current price of hydrogen-powered cars may seem unaffordable to many, mass production will inevitably lower the cost. Meanwhile, consider the fact that hydrogen fuel cells can also serve as mobile power generators that can power other electric equipment. During a power outage or other emergency, a hydrogen fuel cell can produce enough electricity to power a home or provide electricity to a community power grid.

The future of driving depends on replacing fossil fuels with renewable, sustainable and environmentally friendly hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. At last, it's guilt-free.


Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. Power and Race Crew
    Power and Race Crew
    Amazing! Thanks for the post!
  2. Erwin Castro
    Erwin Castro
    voted number 12! I don't think so! hydrogen is a highly flammable material.
    1. Philip
      So is gas, and it's still used worldwide. However with proper caution measures and advancements in technology, hydrogen is better solution - it's clean, abundant and, ultimately, cheaper.


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