In late 2015, Toyota began selling its hydrogen-powered Mirais cars in California. This marks the first time that hydrogen-powered vehicles were sold in the US. And others are on the way. Chrysler recently announced its hydrogen-powered ecoVoyager four door sedan. The ecoVoyager uses a 45 kw fuel cell stack and 268 hp (200 kw) electric motor to deliver the vehicle 300 miles before refueling.
Most people think that hydrogen cars burn hydrogen in an internal combustion engine. That is incorrect. Miracle Dodge Chrysler Jeep 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 battery powers the engine in a traditional EV, whereas 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 creates electricity that is used to power the motor. Water vapor is also created and is released as a waste product.
Hydrogen powered cars do have battery packs, like hybrids and EVs do, but the batteries are much smaller because they are only used when the motor demands extra current such as when passing. Interestingly, the primary way the battery pack is refueled is by regenerative braking, which means the battery is charged by the electricity created when the 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 51 hydrogen stations throughout California that are either already open or are slated to open soon. Other states that are building refueling stations, in addition, are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont. You can find hydrogen filling stations by consulting a map supplied by the US Department of Energy.
Just for reference, there are 12,131 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 Mirais and 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, the Toyota Mirais retails for $57,500 and each one comes with 3 years of complementary fuel. However, there’s good news for potential buyers – there are many sales incentives currently available for buyers. 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. To calculate the total “Net” cost of a hydrogen car would involve factoring the 3 years of complementary fuel into the equation.