Going Green: What of hydrogen-powered cars? (Keep dreamin')


Outside of the cesspool that is New York City, regular folk drive cars to and fro’. And while New Yorkers may get a bad rap for being “mean” or “high-strung” or “fancy,” by relying on public transportation (7 train~!) and our well-muscled legs to get around, we’re doing Mother Earth a big favor. As the rest of the country pumps CO2 and other fun elements into the atmosphere, we’re doing our damnedest to keep our carbon footprints as low as possible. (Never mind that China and India throw CO2 into the atmosphere like nobody’s business… yes, I think going green is 100 percent worthless when taking other, less environmentally sensitive countries into account.) But what if y’all drove a car that, instead of producing noxious, Earth-destroying fumes as waste, you produced clean water? Magic? Wizzzzardry? Only kind of!

Hydrogen-powered cars, friends. Hydrogen-powered cars. I saw a documentary on them once when I was still young and idealistic (let’s say something like 2004) and was totally blown away. By using a fuel-cell (I leave the other, combustion-type engines out of this post; the combustion engine is old hat at this point), hydrogen-powered cars mix hydrogen (of all things!) with oxygen to produce electricity (which powers the car) and water (the only exhaust). That, seemingly, would solve one of the bigger “omg we’re killing the planet with the burning of fossil fuels” problems, right?

Depends on who you talk to. Figures.

For starters, you’re still technically burning fossil fuels when you drive a hydrogen-powered car. That’s because, unlike sweet, life-giving oil, hydrogen isn’t actually a fuel, but rather a conduit for energy. That means you can’t simply burn it and go vroooom. You need to generate that hydrogen somehow, and that’s typically done by burning fossil fuels at specialized plants. Much of this hydrogen is already used to keep America Strong. Who’s gonna pay for increased hydrogen production, and in a fashionably environmentally friendly manner? Not me. I’ve got, what, 50-60 years left on this dumb planet? Not my problem. Granted, as Popular Mechanics noted some time ago, hydrogen contains more than three times as much energy as natural gas, so once you’re able to produce enough in a cost-effective manner, maybe then we’ll all get along.

Another issue—how to transport hydrogen. Y’all may have heard of the Hindenburg, the lighter-than-air zeplin that exploded quite spectacularly over New Jersey. Who wants to drive around with a tank full of that stuff? Try convincing the average American to drive around in a car that’s filled with hydrogen. (Never mind that they already drive around with a tank full of petrol.)

As for the cars themselves, there’s a few reasons why we’re not driving them en masse just yet. The biggest reason right now is that they’re still to expensive for car manufactures to produce. What’s Detroit’s incentive to produce a car that only a small number of people can buy (like the Tesla)? Fuel-cell technology is quite “there” yet, so to speak, not at the scale and sophistication that we’d need it yet. While there’s plenty of researching going into fuel-cells, we’re still a few years away from being able to walk into the local car dealership and test drive a hydrogen-powered car.

Bottom line is, hydrogen-powered cars simply aren’t practical right now. Maybe it’ll take something $10/gallon gasoline before we start looking for alternative fuels.