Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are an exciting technology in the world of alternative fueled cars. But like any complicated technology, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish myth from reality where this innovative clean technology is concerned. Measure your hydrogen fuel cell knowledge with the quiz that follows. Can you determine which statements below are true and which are false?
Fuel cell car engines will never hit the mainstream because they are too expensive to produce. False. Both Ford and General Motors have conducted studies showing that fuel cell car engines can be mass produced for about the same cost as internal combustion engines. There is a lot of hype about the cost of fuel cell vehicles, but this is mostly due to the high cost of prototypes and research vehicles, which is always the case with new technologies.
Battery-powered cars offer the same advantages as fuel cell vehicles. False. That was an easy one. Fuel cell vehicles are an advance of battery-powered cars because they can be refueled quickly and generally have a greater range between refuelings. Fuel cell vehicles that utilize hydrogen offer zero emissions, but also are more efficient than battery vehicles relying on the “grid.” These vehicles also cause less release of greenhouse gases throughout the whole system, from resource recovery to processing to operation.
Fuel cells can also be used to power homes and businesses. True. Fuel cells are excellent options for power generation. Though use is expanding, applications have included connecting the fuel cell to the electric grid as a means of providing supplemental power and backup, or installing fuel cells independently of a grid, as a generator for on-site service where electric power lines would be difficult to install. They are silent, reducing both air and noise pollution. Waste heat from fuel cells is being used by some users to heat water or as supplemental heating.
Fuel cell vehicles can only run on hydrogen. False. While the current focus for fuel cell vehicles is hydrogen, the most abundant element on Earth, several automakers utilized a transition fuel when first developing fuel cell vehicles, with the intent to make the switch to all-hydrogen down the road. Fuel cell vehicles have also been developed as demonstration models that run on methanol and sodium borohydride. Fuel cell vehicles currently in real-world demonstration are powered by hydrogen.
Hydrogen fuel cells use hydrogen derived from natural gas. True. The vast majority of hydrogen fuel cells derive the hydrogen from natural gas. Natural gas is mostly CH4. When CH4 is combined with H20, it makes hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
Although fuel cell vehicles are more environmentally friendly, they are about as energy efficient as internal combustion engines. False. Fuel cell vehicles are achieving energy efficiencies of between 40 and 50 percent during testing and demonstrations, but those numbers have been increasing on an almost daily basis. This increased fuel efficiency, and the potential for reducing depending on foreign oil, is what makes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles so intriguing as a means to reduce dependency on foreign oil.
Biomass can be used to power fuel cells. True. Fuel cell systems can be powered by biomass. The result is a source of clean, renewable power. Fuel cells have been used successfully around the world at landfills, wastewater treatment plants, breweries and farms where power is generated from the methane gas produced, reducing emissions compared to more conventional energy sources.