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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles


Hydrogen is an especially attractive transportation fuel. It is the least polluting fuel available, and can be produced anywhere there is water and a clean source of electricity. A fuel cycle in which hydrogen is produced by solar-electrolysis of water, or by gasification of renewably grown biomass, and then used in a fuel-cell powered electric-motor vehicle (FCEV), would produce little or no local, regional, or global pollution.

Hydrogen FCEVs would combine the best features of battery-powered electric vehicles (BPEVs) -- zero emissions, high efficiency, quiet operation and long life -- with the long range and fast refueling time of internal-combustion-engine vehicles (ICEVs). If fuel-cell technology develops as hoped, then hydrogen FCEVs will be a significant advance over both hydrogen ICEVs and solar BPEVs: they will be cleaner and more efficient than hydrogen ICEVs, have a much shorter refueling time than BPEVs, and have a lower lufecycle cost than both. Solar-hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles would be general-purpose zero-emission vehicles, and could be an important component of strategy for reducing dependence on imported oil, mitigating global warming, and improving urban air quality, at an acceptable cost.

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