Hydrogen Cars fuelled by WATER!

We’ve heard about the popularization of the hybrid car, the establishment of an infrastructure to better support electric vehicles, and all things Tesla. But what about that third frontier? What about hydrogen power?

  • Water car

We’ve heard about the popularization of the hybrid car, the establishment of an infrastructure to better support electric vehicles, and all things Tesla.

But what about that third frontier? What about hydrogen power?

After all, Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical on earth—and indeed, in the universe—so it should be given plenty of consideration.

And it has been. For over 20 years, Hyundai has developed Hydrogen powertrains for busses and heavy machinery; more recently, they’ve released a hydrogen-powered passenger vehicle into the marketplace, to be leased by regular Joes. Assuming, of course, Joe lives near one of the few refuelling stations currently open in Canada. In BC, for example, there are a number of refueling stations, but these are used only for busses and other machinery. There is currently just one for Joe to fill his Hyundai at.

Having said that, those who work with the technology are confident that, like eCars, it’s only going to be a matter of time before Hydrogen powered cars have the support they need.

“I think the intent is to be where gas is now,” says Ashley Tidall, Project Manager at Powertech Labs, a subsidiary of BC Hydro located in Surrey. Which, as it happens, is where Joe’s refuelling station was developed and is currently located.

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She cites the ability to produce the hydrogen gas required to fuel the cars on site as a huge advantage. In Hyundai’s case, the FCEV is a hydrogen-electric hybrid, whose fuel cell “stacks” are provided power by the separation of Hydrogen molecules. In turn, the stacks power an electric motor, which powers the wheels.

So, hydrogen can be trucked to fill stations or the fill stations themselves can be attached to a small infrastructure that can turn water into usable hydrogen gas through electrolysis, right there on site.

Currently, big-box stores like Costco and Best Buy have electric vehicle charging stations on-site at certain locations. Theoretically, an electrolysis unit could be placed on site at Costco, connected to a filling station. All it would require is a connection to the water main. It’s clean, it’s abundant, and most importantly, it’s renewable. Well, more renewable than oil, anyway.

As far as Hyundai is concerned? Well, they believe hydrogen power is the way; it just needed somebody to get the ball rolling.

“We brought the vehicle to market because we wanted to tackle the chicken-and-egg cycle,” says Chad Heard, Public Relations Manager at Hyundai Canada. He speaks, of course, of trying to avoid the problem that eCars went through, and that’s bringing cars to market too far ahead of the infrastructure needed to keep them running.

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That’s why while by Heard’s own admission, Hyundai can build “hundreds of thousands of (the FCEV)”, it’s only available as a lease for the time being. Since it can only be filled in a handful of places, meanwhile, prospective leasers have to complete an interview process to ensure that their lifestyle can sustain a hydrogen-powered car.

Hyundai's Tuscon Fuel Cell

Hyundai’s Tuscon Fuel Cell
Nevertheless, when it was announced that the FCEV would be available, it was met with much interest.

“The people that heard our message and were interested were exceedingly quick to raise their hand,” says Heard.

It seems like only a matter of time before they’ll be yelling loud enough for better hydrogen infrastructure, too.

According to Eric Denhoff, President and CEO of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA), the wheels are already turning. The government of BC has earmarked $300,000 for the creation of more sites. The trouble is, a single refill station requires between $1.5-2 million to install; however, if California is anything to go by, it’s worth looking at.

That state has already been given funding for the installation of 50 sites by 2015-16, with another 50 in the years after that. That’s a huge number of course, but in BC, Denhoff thinks that 2-3 more would be a huge improvement. Not only would it provide the infrastructure needed, it would inspire manufacturers to look more at Canadian markets for their hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Manufacturers like Toyota, for instance, whose hydrogen-powered Mirai will be available for lease or purchase in California in fall of 2015.

toyota mirai

Toyota Mirai
If Toyota sees that BC is building the sites, there’s a much better chance that BC could be a viable option for the Mirai, and perhaps a gateway to other Canadian markets further down the road. Further, as more of these vehicles become available, Canadian governments—as well as private investors (Toyota, for example, is investing in California’s hydrogen infrastructure themselves)—would be keener to loosen the purse strings to help support a clean air initiative like hydrogen power.

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