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Is Hydrogen the Power Source of the Future?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license

Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license

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The first ever hydrogen powered train made its first trip around the the tracks in Germany on September 17, 2018.  The hydrogen fuel cells used to power the train are clean and efficient, with zero carbon emissions and efficiency superior to that of an internal combustion engine.  While it is pricey, it could be a viable energy source for many people’s vehicles in the near future, according to Quartz.

The fuel cells are pieces of technology that convert the potential energy in the hydrogen gas to electrical energy, using oxygen as fuel.  They get the oxygen from the air and the hydrogen by passing an electrical current through water to isolate the ions, also known as electrolysis.  

The maximum efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell is 83%, which is superior to the efficiency of a gasoline car, 58%.  This means that it uses much more fuel than it wastes in the air than a car with an internal combustion engine.

There are approximately 44,563 people in Blacksburg.  Assuming that two thirds of the people drive cars, that makes for around 138,000 tons of carbon dioxide, which is obviously a very large amount. If those cars were powered by hydrogen fuel cells instead of gasoline, there would be no emissions of carbon.

Another practical use of the fuel cells would be in the local Amtrak system.  There has been a large push to get a passenger train that travels from Roanoke to Christiansburg, so commuters can easily get to their workplaces without needing to drive on I-81 twice daily.  Commuting by train is already better for the environment as it is, according to the Mother Nature Network. And with zero emissions from the trains, there would be a completely eco-friendly commuter system.

Another commuter system, the Blacksburg Transit bus system is very prominent in our area, with 19 different routes in the NRV.  While there are a few hybrid buses, it is not uncommon to see large gray clouds following behind the standard buses. In Perth, Australia, there was an experiment with hydrogen fuel cell buses and it was a massive success. The buses were highly efficient and exceeded expectations.

A negative side to the fuel cells is the cost.  A 2018 Toyota Mirai, a fuel cell car, is priced at nearly $60,000 compared to a 2018 Toyota Camry, an internal combustion car, which costs around $23,000.  Like any new technology, the price is high because of it being in an early stage of its production. Once the tech becomes more common, the price will likely decrease.

“I do think that hydrogen fuel cells will be a practical form of renewable energy in 5-10 years, when the price is reduced and the technology is more common,” said Samuel Xiang, freshmen.

The hydrogen fuel cell is a young piece of technology that may play a large part in the future of sustainable energy.  While it is still being perfected, it could become something commuters see on the road every day.

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Is Hydrogen the Power Source of the Future?