Cars Without
Combustion


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Green is always in the eye of the beholder, but hydrogen-powered fuel cells are regarded by many experts as the cleanest alternative to the internal combustion engine for powering automobiles. Fuel cells, which electrochemically convert chemical energy to electricity, don't produce the byproducts of combustion such as nitrogen oxides and ozone. And when hydrogen is the fuel, the only exhaust from the tailpipe is water.

The mass production of fuel cell-powered vehicles would change the face of transportation, and would have a huge impact on reducing both the emissions implicated in global climate change and those that cause local smog.

This GM fuel cell research center in Honeoye Falls, NY, has been developing stacks and associated control technology since 1999.

 

 

That's the promise of fuel cell technology. But that promise has long been at odds with reality.

Fuel cells have been used for some time in niche, stationary applications. But in spite of decades of research, fuel cell vehicles have never been able to compete with hybrid vehicles or even battery electrics, let alone standard cars. The fuel cells have been too expensive for the mass market and have not been durable enough for ordinary drivers.

Those drawbacks, however, may not apply much longer. An explosion of research is leading scientists to innovative fuels, materials, and cell designs that are vastly improving the efficiency and reducing the cost of fuel-cell systems. Within a few years, fuel cells may finally come into their own and live up to their potential as a game-changing technology.

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August 2013

by Mark Crawford, ASME.org