Mike Waters' blog: 12 October 2011 - Is hydrogen highway the right way?
12 October 2011
Mike Waters is senior insight & consultancy manager at Arval, the leading vehicle leasing and fleet management company.
Being based in Swindon it's amazing how many vehicle related stories you are at the forefront of: the magic roundabout is a well known phenomenon, it was the first place in the country to remove speed cameras and now it is home to Britain's first public filling station for cars that run on hydrogen fuel.
Touted as an important step to make hydrogen vehicles a viable alternative to petrol and diesel cars in the UK there are some compelling benefits to hydrogen power. Pollution-free, the gas in a fuel-cell creates a chemical reaction that releases energy in the form of electric power to drive the wheels, all with zero exhaust emissions apart from water.
It's also cheap and practical: Honda believe that hydrogen works out around 5p per litre cheaper than conventional petrol. While their FCX Clarity (the world's first production hydrogen-powered 'fuel cell' car) has a range of 280 miles, a top speed of more than 100mph, and can accelerate to 60mph in 9 seconds.
Hydrogen is efficient as up to 90% of the energy produced by the fuel cell can be converted to electrical energy and it is in abundance so it would not run out in the same way as fossil fuels.
All sounds great - but there must be a reason why only a handful of cars currently exist in the country capable of using hydrogen fuel. While it's predicted that within a few years there could be thousands as manufacturers put more prototypes into production, there are clearly con's as well as pro's when it comes to hydrogen.
And the big con is the potential safety risk. Hydrogen is difficult to store in a tank within a moving vehicle because it's so flammable. This means that in theory any bump or impact could cause the hydrogen to explode. Although Professor Kevin Kendall a hydrogen and fuel cell expert from Birmingham University is not concerned saying "It's just like petrol. You have to be careful."
So alongside further developments to the combustion engine, the increasing popularity of hybrid vehicles and fully electric models it seems that hydrogen could have an important place in the mix. Like many other technologies; how big that place is remains to be seen.
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