What is a fuel cell car?

A hydrogen fuel cell car is a type of electric car powered by hydrogen that only emits water vapor. Compared to other all-electric vehicles, hydrogen 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.

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How do hydrogen cars work?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars use compressed hydrogen gas in a fuel cell to generate electricity. When the car runs, hydrogen and oxygen pass through a fuel call in an electrochemical process that separates the electrons from the hydrogen atoms to create an electric current that powers 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?

You fuel up at a special filing station that pumps pressurized hydrogen into the fuel tank. This process usually takes between five and 10 minutes.

What's difference between hydrogen fuel cell cars and electric cars?

Unlike battery powered cars, fuel cell cars can't be charged at home and generate electricity differently. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles produce their own electricity, which powers the motor. Electric cars rely on stored electricity, from an external power source.

Pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell cars

Here are the advantages of fuel cell cars compared to battery- and gas-powered cars:

  • Lower carbon footprint: Fuel cell cars produce zero tailpipe emissions, except water vapor
  • Longer range than a plug-in vehicle: Energy.gov notes that some fuel cell cars travel over 300 miles on with a complete H2 refill
  • Fill-ups only take a few minutes: This contrasts favorably to the hours it may take to charge an electric car
  • Hydrogen is plentiful: Per the U.S. Department of Energy, hydrogen comes from domestic resources such as natural gas, coal, solar energy, wind, and biomass
  • Tranquil handling: Fuel cell cars offer a relatively quiet ride

Here are the primary disadvantages for fuel cell vehicles:

  • Lack of fueling stations: As of 2023, there were 59 open hydrogen stations in the U.S., also only in California
  • Cost: The fuel cell in a vehicle is costly to manufacturer, and the price exceeds $55,000 for a new fuel cell vehicle from Hyundai, Honda, or Toyota

Should you get a hydrogen fuel cell car?

Currently, fuel cell cars are only practical if you live in one of the major metropolitan areas in California where hydrogen fuel is available. If a fuel cell car isn't available in your state and environment impact is a priority for you, consider buying a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric vehicle. If you regularly drive long distances where hybrids and battery electric cars are less useful, you can also consider a diesel-powered car.

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