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Hydrogen Cars- an Illusion of Green

Updated on October 2, 2009

Hydrogen Cars

Honda's FCX Clarity was released in 2008
Honda's FCX Clarity was released in 2008
The sporty Scorpion Roadster uses hydrogen as a fuel source
The sporty Scorpion Roadster uses hydrogen as a fuel source

The Illusion

One could say, that hydrogen is the source of all energy on earth, since hydrogen is the source of the sun's energy. You also couldn say that hydrogen is a very clean source of energy, since when hydrogen burns the byproduct is water. The release of Honda's FCX Clarity stated that we now had a purely clean pollution free automobile. Now as far as the car itself, this could be seen to be true. This does not however account for how did we get the hydrogen to put in the car.

Hydrogen is not exist in the Earth's atmosphere, except as water vapor. The reasons for this are primarily the fact that hydrogen is very reactive, and the fact that it's very light and literally floats out of our atmosphere. This means that if we're going to get hydrogen, we have to make it. Now generally the energy required to make hydrogen is approximately equivalent to the energy we get out of it when we burn it in a hydrogen car.

The hidden fact is, that 90% of our hydrogen production uses fossil fuels as a source of energy. So instead of our car polluting the environment, the production of our fuel pollutes the environment. Do you see the problem with this? Now of course, this problem is probably not unsolvable, but we haven't solved it yet. So to say that we have a pollution free car, is a bit misleading.

I was reading a high school level physics book the other day, and the thing about hydrogen is this not a source of energy, but a method of storing energy. If you study chemistry you know that breaking bonds requires energy and energy is released when bonds are reformed. To make hydrogen we remove the hydrogen from a more complex molecule, let's say water. H2O can be broken down into two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. This requires energy, and while this energy could be something like solar or wind energy, it currently isn't. When our hydrogen powered car burns hydrogen, the hydrogen reforms with the oxygen in the atmosphere, giving us back the water we started with. So we have in fact expended as much energy in making the hydrogen, as we get back out of it burning it with oxygen.

So as you see it's totally an illusion that we are using hydrogen as an energy source, because we are actually using it as a storage battery.

A Solar or Wind Hydrogen Generator

Alternative Methods of Hydrogen Production

Now as you saw above, it is possible to generate hydrogen using wind and solar power. However, there are other possibilities, such as chemical production of hydrogen. In the video below you can get an idea how hydrogen was produced to fill large blimps, that is until the Hindenburg. You see a demonstration of how hydrogen can be produced chemically, giving waste products that are useful today.

A Purely Chemical Hydrogen System

There is a Solution

I'd like to point out, that just because there are some problems inherent in using hydrogen as a fuel source, doesn't mean that these problems can't be worked out to some sort of optimum solution. Almost any advanced in technology comes with baggage. Someone will develop an inexpensive method of manufacturing hydrogen, that doesn't use fossil fuels or any other source that pollutes the environment in the near future. In the meantime, people can be misled into thinking that they are benefiting the environment by driving their fancy hydrogen car. Let's face it the car is good for the environment, providing the hydrogen is produced in some way that doesn't require the burning of fossil fuel. Unfortunately the reality is that 90% of the hydrogen production that is being done today uses fossil fuels, and until it has worked out is only an illusion that the hydrogen car is good for the environment.


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    • GreenMathDr profile image

      GreenMathDr 8 years ago

      Yes its the exact same idea and some how many just don't see it. If the hydrogen or electricity was produced in an environmentally friendly way, then these cars would be what they claim to be, but this is not the case.

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 8 years ago from NJ, USA

      Another great HUb - and I've argued a similar point on many websites for electric cars - most electricity is produced in coal powered power stations in the US - so the car doesn't pollute but the power station does!

    • GreenMathDr profile image

      GreenMathDr 8 years ago

      As I said 90% of the hydrogen produced today is produced by fossil fuels- oil and coal. Most of our electricity is also produced by fossil fuels. The funny thing is that water is a greenhouse gas but nature keeps water in check.

      Hydrogen can be produced without oil and coal- the problem is that it isn't being done and until it is hydrogen isn't a perfect solution.

    • mega1 profile image

      mega1 8 years ago

      How does the water pollute the environment? and is any oil or by-product of oil used in the production of the hydrogen? Or is electricity from the grid used? Where do they drive these cars? In the desert, they might be very useful! Really, got me thinking there! Tanks!

    • GreenMathDr profile image

      GreenMathDr 8 years ago

      Thank you. The problem with whole environmental issue is that all the solutions have problems and it becomes a problem of choosing the least destructive solutions.

      To make matters worse it is debatable just what environmental issues we should even be addressing. I might write something on that if I can actually make point.

    • jiberish profile image

      jiberish 8 years ago from florida

      Thank you. Very well explained.