Hydrogen: Entering The Limelight, Or Still Not Ready Yet?

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Every so often when discussing alternative fuels, the subject of hydrogen comes up.

Some carmakers, including Mercedes-Benz and Honda, have been pursuing hydrogen as an alternative to gasoline and diesel for several years now, and at the recent 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show Mercedes created a stir with its F125! fuel cell plug-in hybrid concept, its vision of a future S-Class.

But is hydrogen really ready yet? Ward's Auto is reporting its return, but we can't help feeling that's a little presumptuous. As often as hydrogen fuel cells are mentioned as our future fuel, their negatives are ignored.

Fuel cells of the future

A vision of the year 2025, the F125! concept pairs a plug-in electric system and hydrogen fuel cell to match silent running with high performance - 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds and a top speed of 137 mph. Range was touted at 621 miles.

A representative for Mercedes at the Geneva Motor Show back in March told us of the maker's interest in hydrogen too - that it was attractive for medium-size vehicles, with smaller cars like the Smart and A-Class heading towards an electric future and larger ones taking the plug-in hybrid route.

This makes sense - electric vehicles are undoubtedly suited to short journies where charging can be handled at home.


Hydrogen has its own benefits - as a liquid fuel, it can be delivered as quickly as regular gasoline at a pump, and while propulsion is entirely electric, range can be much greater from the hydrogen's energy density.

Hydrogen advocates are also reducing some of the system's negatives - size was a previous issue, but modern units are compact enough to fit into a compact car. Safety in an accident has also been improved. GM's work with fuel cells has reduced the amount of expensive platinum needed, reducing the cost by $5,000 per vehicle.

It also shares all the usual benefits of electric vehicles - silent running, mechanical smoothness and surprising performance, all courtesy of an electric motor.

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