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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Poised to Change Commutes & Fatten Wallets

Jan 16, 2014 12:39PM ● Published by Erin Frisch

With the state of California's updated zero-emissions vehicle mandate -- which mandates that 22 percent of cars sold by 2025 produce zero emissions -- automakers are feeling the pressure to produce more energy efficient vehicles, according to Energy.gov. Eight other states (Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont) may opt in to the zero emissions mandate, helping to create a bigger market for alternative fuel cars. A new car, powered by hydrogen fuel cells, offers consumers a green choice and will help automakers meet the new mandate.

How Hydrogen Fuel Cells Work

In a hydrogen car, a hydrogen stack of cells combines with oxygen naturally found in the air. The car can then go from 0 to 60 mph in 10 seconds. This reaction powers the vehicle and emits only water vapor, making the car a very green choice. While an electric vehicle generally has a driving range of 100-200 miles, the hydrogen powered car will truly match the mileage output of the gasoline car. This means that drivers can take longer trips without having to refuel.

When drivers do need to refuel, they must locate a hydrogen refueling station and refuel the hydrogen in the cells, a process that takes around 5 minutes. To really be viable then, the hydrogen car must exist within a network of hydrogen fueling stations, much like the success of the electric car depends on plug-in charging stations. Already, California has committed to building 20 hydrogen refueling stations by 2015, and 100 by the year 2024, according to The Chicago Tribune and Rappler. Of course, a far greater network of refueling stations need to be built, so that hydrogen car drivers can travel elsewhere.

Costs and Benefits of a Hydrogen Powered Car

At this point, a viable hydrogen-powered car is still a good two to five years way: Hyundai, Honda and Toyota have all committed to putting their earliest cars on the market by 2015. The automakers believe that the hydrogen powered vehicles offer benefits very similar to electric cars and traditional gas cars -- quiet operation, ability to refuel and control driveability -- and offer drivers the next level of sustainability.

However, these benefits are offset by the expense of the car. At present, hydrogen fuel cells cost a lot to manufacture, which ties in directly to a more costly car. The only way for automakers to get around the high costs of the fuel cell is to find creative way ways to cut other product costs and offer the vehicle for less. Toyota plans to come out with a hydrogen vehicle that costs somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $100,000. As Scottsdale Hyundai notes, Hyundai is committed to building a hydrogen powered car that costs less than $50,000, which would offer drivers a more affordable option.

Recently, Car and Driver took a hydrogen car for a test drive and refuel. They found hydrogen for $5 per kilogram, although prices are expected to fall to $2 to $4 per kilogram. Eventually the cost will be similar to or less than the cost of gasoline, with fewer fluctuations in the day-to-day cost of fuel. This leads to an overall cost savings.

Would you buy a eco friendly car?

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