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Hydrogen cars - the green alternative?
For those who worry about the environment, the idea of the hydrogen-fuelled car is an exciting one.
Quite simply, a hydrogen car is a vehicle that uses hydrogen as its main source of fuel. Much more environmentally friendly than petrol or diesel, hydrogen-based vehicles pull oxygen from the air, producing just water vapour from their exhausts, and generating no carbon dioxide. Or so the theory goes, anyway. While the Bush administration has been hugely in favour of a move to a "hydrogen economy", the hydrogen car is not without its opponents, who claim that hydrogen isn't nearly as efficient as has been claimed, and that the hydrogen car will never be widely available in our lifetime. So who's right?
At BMW, the idea of hydrogen-fuelled cars is one which is being taken seriously, with the company recently creating versions of their 7-Series which run on hydrogen. "All indications are that hydrogen is the only genuine long-term sustainable power source for cars," says the company's UK Marketing Director, Uwe Ellinghaus. BMW still think it will be many years before the vehicles become available to the public, pointing out that at the moment there is no infrastructure to support them – there's currently only one hydrogen fuel pump in the UK, although more filling stations are being developed in Germany and California.
BMW aren't the only manufacturers with an interest in hydrogen power. At General Motors, extensive testing is being carried out on hydrogen vehicles, and a concept vehicle called AUTOnomy has been created, using hydrogen fuel cell technology. The Chevrolet Sequel, meanwhile, made history in 2007 when it became the first vehicle to drive 300 miles on just one tank of hydrogen, producing zero emissions as it went. Driving in and out of traffic, and using public roads, the Sequel stood up well to the test, and was powered by hydrogen produced at Niagra Falls – a completely renewable energy source.
"The entire process – from the creation of the hydrogen to the use of the fuel in the vehicle – was virtually carbon dioxide free," commented Larry Burns, GM vice president of research, development and strategic planning.
So, are hydrogen cars the future of motoring? If they are, it's still a very distant future, as the costs involved in producing the vehicles is still far too high to make it a viable proposition for most manufacturers. And, even if you did manage to buy one, there's still the problem of where to fuel it up – and the expense of running it when you do. Despite the drawbacks, however, companies such as Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda and Nissan have all been examining the possibility of producing hydrogen cars, with some bus companies also conducting research on the subject. Unmanned hydrogen-fuelled planes are also being tested, with Boeing planning a manned flight on such a plane for later this year.
It’s still not clear whether or not hydrogen cars will be universally adopted as the vehicles of the future. With mounting pressure on politicians and automobile manufacturers to reduce pollution and protect the planet, however, it's a proposition that's certainly being taken seriously.
20 Jun 2007