Fuel Cell Vehicle Myth One – Fuel Cell Vehicles “Burn” Hydrogen

Fuel Cell Vehicle Myth One – Fuel Cell Vehicles “Burn” Hydrogen
Fuel Cell Vehicle Myth One – Fuel Cell Vehicles “Burn” Hydrogen

Starting a discussion on the multiple benefits of fuel cell vehicles, which makes us wonder, are there any myths that need to be busted?

Olathe Toyota Parts Center turned me on to a special page they put up, “Ten Fuel Cell Vehicle Myths,” based on a number of fuel cell vehicle myths that are going around. The myths themselves are based on outdated information and outright misinformation. By the end of the decade, at least a few automakers, such as Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda, will have fuel cell vehicles on the road. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the myths and facts.

As the name suggests, a fuel cell vehicle, such as the Toyota FCV, uses a hydrogen fuel cell, not an internal combustion engine (ICE). A fuel cell generates electricity by combining hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) to make water. The PEM (proton exchange membrane) allows H2 protons to pass through, while forcing electrons through a circuit to generate an electric current. Reuniting with protons on the other side of the PEM, two H2 molecules and one O2 molecule combine to produce two molecules of water vapor (2-H2O), as the only exhaust product. The electricity generated goes to power vehicle systems, move the vehicle via the motor-generators, and charge the hybrid battery, all without flames, moving parts, or harmful exhaust.

On the other hand, fuel cell vehicles aren’t the only ones that can rightly be called “hydrogen” vehicles. While this is how all fuel cell vehicles get their electricity, this doesn’t mean that you can’t “burn” hydrogen to extract its energy, one kilogram of H2 having about the same energy as a gallon of gasoline. Because of its flammable nature, ICEs can be adapted to run on H2, just as they have been designed and adapted to run on another gaseous fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG). For example, it is rumored that the Mazda RX9 will resurrect the high-revving, yet high-emissions, Wankel rotary engine in a hydrogen-burning form, perhaps as a range-extender or even a hybrid electric vehicle.

Image © Olathe Toyota Parts Center

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