1 June 2002
Fuel cells hit the street
Detroit—After hailing fuel cells for nearly a decade as the ultimate replacement for the internal combustion engine, some fuel-cell-powered vehicles are slowly heading toward auto showrooms.
Honda Motor Corp. plans to make a very small but undetermined number of fuel cell vehicles available next year, and DaimlerChrysler AG is launching a program in Europe with 30 fuel cell buses in 10 cities.
Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. is sending five fuel cell vehicles to California this year for evaluation. The automakers still estimate mass-produced, widely available fuel cell vehicles will not be possible until 2010 at the earliest, mainly due to cost, infrastructure, technical challenges, and safety issues.
Fuel cells use a chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen to produce electric power. When pure hydrogen is used, the only tailpipe emission is harmless water vapor. When hydrogen extracts from gasoline or other fuel, you can reduce harmful emissions but not eliminate them.
However, hydrogen, a highly flammable gas, poses safety concerns, especially in a crash. Several suppliers are working on strong but light onboard storage systems. A lack of hydrogen filling stations is another obstacle.
In January, the federal government announced a partnership with U.S. automakers called Freedom CAR, with the goal to accelerate developing fuel cell vehicles and a hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
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