Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story -

How green are fuel cell cars?

As with plug-in elec­tric cars, fuel cell ve­hi­cles are only as green as the source of their power. Both types have zero tailpipe emis­sions, but just as an elec­tric car plugged into a coal-pow­ered grid has as­so­ci­ated car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, a hy­dro­gen fuel cell car can also have a CO2 foot­print, depend­ing on how the hy­dro­gen was pro­duced.

Hy­dro­gen line

The most abun­dant el­e­ment in the uni­verse, hy­dro­gen does not ex­ist nat­u­rally in large quan­ti­ties on Earth. It has to be sep­a­rated from other com­pounds such as wa­ter or fos­sil fu­els. The most com­mon and cheap­est way is through “steam re­form­ing”, which mixes nat­u­ral gas with steam to strip away the pure hy­dro­gen from the wa­ter.

There are down­sides. First, the re­form­ing process pro­duces CO2 and, sec­ond, the nat­u­ral gas used is of­ten har­vested from shale rock via the frack­ing process, prompt­ing sev­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns. An al­ter­na­tive method is to pass an elec­tric cur­rent through wa­ter, giv­ing scope to use so­lar or wind power.

Hyundai’s lo­cal re­fu­elling sta­tion ini­tially will use hy­dro­gen from the re­form­ing process but the maker aims to switch to so­lar en­ergy by mid-year.

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