A caravan of hydrogen-fueled cars and SUVs paused to refuel today at Duke University, lingering long enough to let local folks lift the hood for a glimpse of zero-emission technology that might become part of our future.
So when do we get to drive one of these things home?
“It will almost surely take several decades before hydrogen-fueled vehicles could comprise a significant share of the automotive fleet,” says Richard Newell, Gendell Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics in Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
Hydrogen fuel cells are pollution-free, but the complete environmental picture depends on how the hydrogen itself is produced — whether from nuclear or renewable energy sources or from fossil fuels. A mobile refueling tanker traveling with the tour carries hydrogen made with hydroelectric power.
“Significant scientific, economic and practical hurdles must be surmounted before hydrogen becomes a cost-effective part of the energy system,” Newell said.
For one thing, there can’t be a mass market for hydrogen cars unless the nation as a massive network of hydrogen fueling stations.
The Hydrogen Road Tour is a two-week trek from Maine to California designed to show off hydrogen’s potential as a zero-emissions alternative to petroleum fuel for the nation’s cars and trucks.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is co-sponsoring the tour with several trade groups and nine car makers. The Bush administration has invested $1.2 billion since 2003 in a program aimed at putting 2 million hydrogen vehicles on the road by 2020.
Next stop: Grigg Hall, UNC-Charlotte, 8-9 a.m. Saturday.
Eight fuel-cell vehicles with electric motors and one car (a BMW Series 7) equipped to burn either gasoline or liquid hydrogen in its internal combustion engine. The BMW’s hydrogen is chilled to 400 degrees below zero.
The fuel-cell cars use a chemical reaction with oxygen and hydrogen gas to produce electricity. A fuel-cell kilogram of hydrogen, compressed to 5,000 pounds per square inch, has roughly the same energy content as a gallon of gas.
They include the Honda FCX Clarity, which Honda has leased to a few drivers in California this year, and cars made by Daimler, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Volkswagen and Toyota.