Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may seem like a new technology, but is hydrogen fuel production, storage, delivery, and utilization unproven technology?
Actually, this has been around for decades, the proton exchange membrane fuel cell dating back as far as the 1950s, invented by General Electric. The first commercially available fuel cells were available in the 1990s, and the first fuel cell vehicle, the Honda FCX Clarity, was available for lease in 2008. Of course, for any of this to work, hydrogen fuel is necessary, and we’ve talked about hydrogen fuel cell vehicle onboard hydrogen fuel storage, but what about storage at fueling stations?
If you think about it, hydrogen fuel storage and delivery systems are already in place, no different than the systems used for servicing compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, which have been around since at least the 1980s. Currently, there are some 16 million CNG vehicles around the world, many of them being conversion vehicles, with very few problems•. In fact, even early “natural gas” lines, as far back as the mid-1800s, were used to carry a blend of natural gas and hydrogen for streetlamps and cooking fuel.
Finally, even Sandia National Laboratories has determined that hydrogen fueling stations aren’t nearly as dangerous as previously thought. Add in thousands of industrial applications of compressed hydrogen gas and there’s overwhelming evidence that fulfilling the refueling needs of perhaps hundreds of thousands of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is no more dangerous than that of the current conventional, hybrid, and CNG vehicle fleet.
•Keep in mind that the safety of CNG vehicles is largely dependent on design and assembly. Commercial CNG vehicles, such as the Honda Civic GX, have an excellent safety record. On the other hand, CNG-conversion vehicles can be a problem, if they are poorly assembled. Still, considering there are thousands of CNG- and LPG-conversion (liquid petroleum gas) vehicles where I live, I don’t hear of them exploding every other day.
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