In 2008 Chrysler announced its hydrogen-powered ecoVoyager four door sedan. The ecoVoyager uses a 45 kw fuel cell stack and 268 hp electric motor to deliver the vehicle 300 miles before refueling. According to Chrysler, the ecoVoyager is able to travel the first 40 miles on purely electric power via it’s 16 kw lithium-ion battery pack before needing an assist from the fuel cell stack and hydrogen tanks.
Most people think that hydrogen cars burn hydrogen in an internal combustion engine. It doesn’t work that way. Susquehanna Dodge Chrysler Jeep of Wrightsville, PA explained to us that the best way to think of hydrogen-powered vehicle is that it is an electric vehicle (EV) that is capable of making its own electricity. So, like an EV, the propulsion is provided by an electric motor. The main difference is that a device called a “fuel cell” generates the electricity to power the motor in a hydrogen vehicle.
The way fuel cells generate electricity is by fusing pressurized hydrogen stored in ultra-beefy on-board tanks with oxygen from the outside air. During this process, the fuel cell chemically creates the current that is used to power the propulsion motor. And as for emissions, water vapor is created and is released into the air as a waste product.
It is important to note that most hydrogen powered cars do have battery packs, like hybrids and EVs do. However, the batteries are much smaller because they are only used when the motor demands extra current such as during times of acceleration. Interestingly, this “booster” battery pack is refueled is purely by regenerative braking, which means the battery is charged by the electricity created when the vehicles brakes are applied.
California was the first state to openly embrace the possibility of hydrogen-powered transportation and started building infrastructure (filling stations) several years ago. So far, there are a hundred or so hydrogen stations throughout California that are either already open or are opening soon. Other states that are building refueling stations, too. You can find hydrogen filling station list by consulting a map supplied by the US Department of Energy.
Just for reference, there are 12,312 electric EV charging stations in the United States today so the hydrogen community has a little catching up to do in terms of infrastructure. The sales of hydrogen-powered cars like the ecoVoyager are a classic “chicken or egg” paradigm. People will be unlikely to buy the cars if hydrogen filling stations aren’t nearby. So the push for filling infrastructure is a key factor in adoption. As you might imagine, the car manufacturers are actively involved in the creation of the filling station infrastructure.
At the present time, there isn’t a price established for the ecoVoyager but when they do go on sale, there will likely be a large number of incentives. For example, at the time of this writing, the State of California is offering a $5000 rebate incentive on all hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and there is an $8000 federal tax credit for qualified buyers, in addition.