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Unplugging Your Cars from Conventional Fuels

Earlier this week, we mentioned [www.sundance.tv] plug-in hybrids as a way to greener transportation, and they’re a good goal for the short term. Ultimately, though, to achieve truly green transportation, we need to get off of fossil fuels and in to a renewable option. Biofuels [www.sundance.tv] are one possibility; battery-powered electric cars [www.sundance.tv] are another, but one that could really revolutionize how we drive is hydrogen and hydrogen fuel-cells.

The advantages are many: available from renewable sources with (in principle) no net carbon dioxide emissions; produces only water vapor as exhaust; a limitless supply of cheap, easy-to-get fuel. The technology is definitely not without drawbacks, however; most stem from the fact that it’s a new technology and very few parts of the process — from creating the fuel to creating engines that run on it — are economically feasible. For all (or most) cars to run on hydrogen fuel (similar to our gasoline-powered cars of today, but with fewer greenhouse gas emissions), we’d need a whole new infrastructure of fuel stations, as well as new engines to burn the fuel. Switching to fuel-cell-powered cars wouldn’t require as much infrastructure (since, technically, they could run on water), but would require more than just new engines; a whole new way of designing and building cars would have to be conceived, planned and implemented. While the ideas are out there (see our discussion of the Hypercar [www.sundance.tv] for an example), these are huge hurdles to a hydrogen-powered future.

That’s not to say that no one is trying, though. Here are the models, ideas and prototypes that have caught TreeHugger’s eye to this point:
1) Honda’s FCX [www.treehugger.com] (a fuel cell vehicle) will apparently be road-ready in just a few years. We like this one; it’s been featured here [www.treehugger.com], here [www.treehugger.com] and here [www.treehugger.com] and is pictured above as well.
2) BMW’s Hydrogen 7 [www.treehugger.com] (which runs on hydrogen fuel, not a fuel cell) claims to be “paving the way to the future” — is it really? We aren’t so sure…
3) We caught GM’s Hy-wire [www.treehugger.com] hydrogen car on video, and caught wind of their delivery of a Sequel [www.treehugger.com] fuel cell vehicle to Camp Pendleton, for test-driving by the Marines there.
4) GM also pledged to build 100 fuel cell vehicles [www.treehugger.com] during 2007; will they make it?
5) Morgan, the producer of legendary British sports cars, has started developing a fuel cell car, too [www.treehugger.com].
6) If it’s good enough for a car, why not a bike? Two-wheeler enthusiasts can hop on this hydrogen-powered bike [www.treehugger.com].
7) For a fuel-cell bike you don’t have to pedal, check out the ENV fuel cell motorcycle [www.treehugger.com].
8) To get a feel for how the fuel-cell technology works (and it really does!), and to have some fun doing it, check out the H-racer [www.treehugger.com], the world’s smallest fuel cell vehicle.

So, hydrogen is getting out there. Will we see it change the way we drive this decade? Doesn’t look good. In our lifetimes? Eh, maybe… It’s going to take some doing, some luck and some green, earnest work to get it done, but if we do, the planet will thank us for doing it.