The Controversy around Fuels Cells in North America
By now, we’ve all heard of electric vehicles and all of their benefits, but have you ever heard of a hydrogen powered car, known as a Fuel Cell Vehicle or Hydrogen Electric Vehicle (HEV)? Hydrogen is one of the most impactful resources in the global strategy against climate change, but it’s got a negative past still has implications in North America to this day. So how is it that the west has such a fixed perspective about hydrogen fuel, and what can be done to change it?
What is Hydrogen, and why is it viewed so negatively?
In simplistic terms, Hydrogen is a gaseous chemical element that has the most simplistic atomic structure and is used especially in the processing of fossil fuels. A hydrogen fuel cell uses the chemical energy of hydrogen to produce a clean form of electricity, with heat and water being the only by-products. Fuel cells offer a variety of applications, from transportation to emergency back-up power, and can power systems as large as a hospital or as small as a personal computer. While hydrogen sounds like a pretty solid means of generating electricity, there is an incredibly problematic image associated with hydrogen fuel that the majority of North American’s have in their mind when they hear the word “hydrogen.” In the US, the population has been programmed to associate this word with wartime perils and the destructive H-bomb that was a product of a hostile era.
How exactly does a hydrogen fuel cell work?
HEVs are powered by compressed hydrogen gas that feeds into an onboard fuel cell called a “stack”, which then converts the fuel’s chemical energy into electrical energy. This electricity then powers the vehicle’s electric motors which run similarly to any other fully electric vehicle. Currently, there are only a few places that you can actually fuel up your Hydrogen vehicle in North America, most of the stations being in California and New York, with a small handful of filling stations on each end of Canada.
How could Hydrogen play a role in the race against climate change?
In the face of the looming crisis posed by climate change, the HEV is a practical solution to curb rising greenhouse gasses. The HEV produces zero emissions, can be refueled in almost no time at all, has the same range as most gas-powered vehicles, and is considered to be as safe (or safer) than ICE vehicles by the U.S. Department of Energy. Converting from gas-powered to zero-emission is crucial, especially in light of the recent advisory from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose scientists announced that the world needs to reduce greenhouse gases by one billion tons annually to help curb the devastating effects of climate change.
How does North America overcome its anxiety towards hydrogen?
The best way would simply be circulating more information about the safety of HEVs, building the needed infrastructure and introducing more onto the market so that consumers can experience them for themselves. The general public does not realize that hydrogen vehicles are designed specifically with safety in mind and pose less of a risk for fire and explosions than traditional ICE vehicles do. While it seems like hydrogen is a little far off from the mainstream, it remains a solid choice for alternative fuels and the race against climate change.