It's long been thought that hydrogen cars won't be a reality for many years, due to the problems with the volatile gas leaking into the atmosphere (and perhaps igniting and blowing up the car). The hydrogen atom may be free and available to all, but it's also so small that it's almost impossible to contain. But scientists are working on the problem.
Lee Dye writes in abcnews.com that hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into efforts to solve the problems with hydrogen fuel. One of these is that fossil fuel is much more efficient, so it takes a lot more hydrogen to run an automobile. This means the hydrogen needs to be compressed so enough of it can fit inside a gas tank.
The next problem is how to keep it there. To keep it from escaping, it needs to be combined with other chemicals. Scientists want to create a compound that's at least 7% hydrogen, meaning 93% of the material you pump into your gas tank will serve no other purposed except to store the hydrogen. Dye says, "That's sort of like using a brick to hold a speck of gold." Right now, we know how to remove hydrogen from conventional gasoline, but one point of hydrogen cars is to get away from fossil fuels, although the gas-hydrogen hybrid would use less gasoline and produce fewer greenhouse gases. Some researchers think they'll eventually be able to strip hydrogen molecules from water, meaning you could fill up your tank with a garden hose. However, water is getting scare in many parts of the country and using it to fuel cars would make the drought even worse.
Otis Port writes in Business Week that one of the problems with hydrogen fuel is that you have to wait for it to be converted out of the chemical compound containing it, whether it's gasoline or water. This means you'll have to warm up your car for about 15 minutes before you can drive it. But researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are developing an under-the-hood steam reformer. Chief engineer Greg Whyatt says, "It can produce large amounts of hydrogen from gasoline vapors in only 12 seconds?Compared to an internal-combustion engine, we're projecting that a fuel-cell-powered car with our steam reformer would get at least twice the mileage" from the same amount of gasoline.
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