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When Was the First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Introduced?

by Celeste Fiore
  • Overview

    Hydrogen fuel cell cars use hydrogen that reacts with oxygen to produce electricity to power an electric engine. The cars have zero emissions when running, because the only byproducts of the chemical reaction are water and electricity. As of 2009, no fuel cell vehicles are commercially available in the U.S.
  • History

    The 1966 GM Electrovan was the first hydrogen fuel cell car ever produced. Dr. Craig Marks and a staff of 250 took two years to build what Marks referred to as "a nightmare of complexity." They borrowed the technology that NASA used to power the Gemini spacecraft. Fuel cells produced both electricity and drinkable water for astronauts. The technology was abandoned until the 1990s, when emissions became a matter of national concern.
    The first hydrogen fuel cell was intricate and heavy.
  • Types

    In the summer of 2008, Honda began the first commercial production of a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle, called the FCX Clarity. It has since been named the 2009 World Green Car. Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Fiat, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Suzuki, Toyota and Volkswagen have all developed at least one fuel cell powered vehicle.
  • Government Involvement

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Program works with industry, academia and government to enable widespread use and production of fuel cells. It hopes to decrease the economic, technological and institutional obstacles to fuel cell technology in accordance with the National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap and the Hydrogen Posture Plan. The DOE has received $6.6 million in appropriations in 2009 for transportation fuel systems research and development; the overall budget for the program in fiscal year 2009 was $200,449,000. Research and development may be cut altogether in 2010, but the Recovery Act of 2009 includes a tax credit for producers of fuel cells.
    Hydrogen converting to energy and water.
  • Dangers/Problems

    There are seven main dangers or problems associated with hydrogen fuel cell automobiles intended for widespread commercial use. First, there is still doubt that the technology will be workable for mass production. Second, all filling stations in the U.S. would have to be retrofitted with hydrogen fueling technologies. Third, mass production of these cars would require a complete change in car manufacturing infrastructure. Fourth, component parts such as electrodes are almost cost prohibitive. Fifth, hydrogen stored as a highly pressurized gas could explode, whether in a car or in a storage facility. Sixth, pursuing this technology may be a diversion from improving gas mileage. Finally, the most common way of producing hydrogen is from fossil fuels, so emissions occur on the front end of the manufacturing process rather than in the powering of the engine.
  • Advantages

    The concern for reducing individual and national carbon footprints has made decreasing emissions from automobiles paramount. When hydrogen fuel cells are used to power a car, that car has zero emissions. In states such as California with strict emissions standards, fuel cell cars play an important role in protecting the environment. Hydrogen fuel cells may lessen dependence on oil as well.
    Hydrogen fuel cells may decrease dependence on oil.

    References & Resources