Thirteen years ago today, Toyota unveiled two car models running on hydrogen fuel cell power. I was roughly 11 at the time and I remember the media hype over the potential of cars free of harmful emissions and pollution; I was convinced fuel cell cars were the future.
Surprisingly, fuel cell technology has been around since 1839, more than 150 years. It was originally called the “gas battery.” The invention of the fuel cell vehicle (FCV) didn't come until 1959 in the form of a tractor.
But despite many years of research, FCVs are rare in the auto industry. The first FCV to become widely available for customer leasing was Honda's FCX Clarity which debuted in 2008. Although Toyota has been invested in the potential of FCVs for years, they have yet to actually sell one. This is likely due to the huge success of the Toyota Prius.
The problem with hydrogen vehicles is the issue of refilling the tank and the huge amount of energy it takes to produce the hydrogen to fill it. If the hydrogen is produced with fossil fuels and bio-ethanol, there are still emissions even if they aren't expelled from the operation of the FCV. To solve the problem that indirect emissions pose to the spread of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the hydrogen would need to be produced using renewable energy only.
Right now hybrid and electric cars are rising in popularity because they are convenient for consumers. After all, every home has an electrical outlet and a car can charge in as little as 20 minutes now. There are even special parking spaces with places to plug in.
Despite difficulties, it's certainly possible for FCVs to rise in popularity, especially due to the fact that California law favors the technology. Sure enough, Toyota will release the Toyota Mirai, their first official FCV, to consumers as of 2016 — to California only. Hopefully, the Mirai will match the success of the Prius and provide another clean option for the planet.
(Image at top: The Toyota Mirai will be released to consumers in 2016. / Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)