Hydrogen Fuel Cell Frequently Asked Questions
Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are real and available today. More than 1,000 people in California are already driving an FCEV, and transit agencies are operating fuel cell transit buses. Retail hydrogen stations are open, and the network is growing statewide.
FCEVs combine the performance and emissions-free driving of an electric vehicle with the range and convenience of a traditional vehicle. FCEVs powered by hydrogen help reduce pollution, greenhouse gases, energy use and dependence on oil.
QUESTION: HOW DOES A FUEL CELL ELECTRIC VEHICLE WORK?
A fuel cell on board converts hydrogen into electrical energy by way of a chemical reaction.
The hydrogen in the tank fuses chemically with oxygen from the air to make water. In the process, electricity is released and this is used to power an electric motor that drives the vehicle. The only emission is water—and it's so pure you can drink it!
A fuel cell has an anode, a cathode and a membrane coated with a catalyst. The membrane is the electrolyte. Hydrogen enters the anode side of the fuel cell and oxygen enters from the cathode side.
When the hydrogen molecules come into contact with the catalyst, a chemical reaction converts the energy stored in the hydrogen into an electric current. A fuel cell will create a current as long as it has fuel. When the fuel supply is shut off, the reaction stops and therefore, so does the current.
QUESTION: ARE FCEVs GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
FCEVs are energy efficient and have zero tailpipe emissions, other than water. Hydrogen FCEVs significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, and are two-to-three times more energy efficient than a combustion engine.
QUESTION: HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO FUEL UP?
It costs about the same as gasoline, on a per mile basis. However, automakers like Toyota and Honda are giving the hydrogen away for free for the life of the lease.
QUESTION: WHERE ARE THE STATIONS?
Throughout California, and coming to the East Coast.
Most hydrogen stations are in the big metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, Orange County, and the San Francisco Bay area. Destination stations are in cities that include Santa Barbara, Lake Tahoe/Truckee, the Napa Valley, and San Diego. Connector stations in Sacramento and Harris Ranch help ensure people can use their FCVs just as they do conventional vehicles to drive the length and breadth of California.
At the current pace of construction, California will have about 50 retail hydrogen stations open by the end of 2017, and more under construction. The goal is to have at least 100 hydrogen stations statewide by 2020, which will nearly match the distribution of diesel stations for passenger vehicles.
QUESTION: ARE FUEL CELL VEHICLES AND HYDROGEN SAFE?
Yes, as safe as the vehicles and fuel we use today.
Automakers subject fuel cell vehicle models to extensive safety testing prior to releasing them on public roads. Hydrogen is as safe as other transportation fuels, but has different characteristics. For example, it’s lighter than air, odorless, and non-toxic. On the small chance that hydrogen does escape from the vehicle or station, it quickly disperses in the atmosphere.
QUESTION: HOW WELL DOES A FUEL CELL VEHICLE PERFORM?
In most respects, a fuel cell vehicle drives like a conventional gasoline vehicle. It has power and performance —great pick-up and easily cruises at freeway speeds. FCVs have maximum torque at zero miles per hour, which means powerful acceleration from 0 to 60—and from 30 to 60.
On the inside, FCVs have plenty of space for passengers and cargo. The cars have high-end finishes and advanced technology. The dashboard gauges display driving range, power management and provide feedback about driving style. Many use recycled or recyclable materials in the cabin.
Driving or riding in an FCEV, you do notice a few differences. First, you won’t feel the vehicle change gears when accelerating or climbing hills. Second, the car is very quiet. You don’t realize how loud an engine is until that sound is absent!
QUESTION: WHAT MAINTENANCE DOES A FUEL CELL CAR NEED?
Brakes, air filters, and coolant.
Fuel cell vehicles are electric cars and, therefore, don’t have many moving parts. Which means no oil change, smog test, or replacing belts or spark plugs. Only maintenance is standard wear-and tear-items like brakes, tires, filters, and fluids. But the automakers provide no-cost scheduled maintenance for three years.
BENEFITS OF FUEL CELL ELECTRIC VEHICLES
Fuel cell electric vehicles powered by hydrogen are zero-emission, zero-petroleum vehicles.
They have range, refill-time, power and performance similar to conventional vehicles.
FCEVs and hydrogen fuel will be cost competitive with other options.
Hydrogen is a clean, efficient fuel that can be made from a variety of domestic resources.
Fuel cell electric vehicles are part of the advanced transportation family that includes plug-in electric, biofuels and improved combustion engines. All clean vehicles are necessary to improve our environment and our world.