What is a fuel cell car?
A fuel cell car is a type of electric car powered by hydrogen that only emits water vapor. Compared to other all-electric vehicles, fuel cell cars are most like conventional gasoline-powered cars in terms of the driving experience. They can travel a similar range and be refueled at a hydrogen filling station in a few minutes.
How do fuel cell cars work?
Hydrogen fuel cell cars have internal tanks that hold compressed, pressurized hydrogen gas. When the car runs, hydrogen and oxygen pass through a fuel cell in an electrochemical process that separates the electrons from the hydrogen atoms to create an electric current that drives the motor. Afterward, the electrons rejoin the hydrogen and oxygen atoms to form water.
Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) may also have an onboard battery pack. The battery stores excess electricity produced by the fuel cell and recaptures electricity through regenerative braking.
How do you fuel a hydrogen car?
Unlike battery-powered cars, you can't charge a fuel cell car at home. Instead, you fill up at a special filling station that pumps pressurized hydrogen into the fuel tank. This process usually takes between five and ten minutes.
What are the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell cars?
Hydrogen fuel cell cars offer many advantages compared to both battery and gas-powered vehicles. For starters, they have a lower carbon footprint than combustion engines. Compared to plug-in electric vehicles, a fuel cell car often has a longer range and takes only a few minutes to fill. Electric vehicles can take hours to charge without a superfast charging station, and even at a high voltage charging station, an electric vehicle takes several times longer to fully charge.
The primary disadvantage of a fuel cell car is availability. Fuel cell cars and hydrogen fueling stations are only available in California, with 50 publicly available charging stations and about 6,500 fuel cell cars on the road as of 2019. Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai are the only three automakers that currently manufacture fuel cell cars in the US.
Another potential disadvantage is cost. The fuel cell itself is costly to manufacture, and prices for the base-level trim Toyota Mirai, for instance, are around $50,000. However, manufacturer and tax incentives can bring the total price down.
Should I get a hydrogen fuel cell car?
Right now, fuel cell cars are only practical if you live in California in one of the major metropolitan areas where hydrogen fuel is available. If a fuel cell car isn't available in your state and environmental impact is a top priority, consider buying a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or a battery electric vehicle. If you want low running costs, high convenience, and regularly drive long distances where hybrids and battery electric cars are less useful, you can also consider a diesel-powered car.