THE BLOG
08/05/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hydrogen Is The Answer ... Uh, Isn't It?

What would you say to Barack Obama about changing our economy's base from oil to hydrogen? Maybe he or someone on his staff, while wandering around the Huffington Post, will find our little part of it ... And read what you have to say about moving from oil to hydrogen ... or not, if you don't believe hydrogen to be a viable alternative, share with us what you think makes more sense.

History usually isn't made at car dealerships, but last Saturday that's exactly what happened at Honda of Santa Monica, CA, when it delivered a new car, unlike any other, and about which few people could complain. (A Honda engineer, rear left, shows the first customers of the FCX Clarity how to fuel their new EV at a gas station in West Los Angeles outfitted just last month for storing and pumping, in a sense, hydrogen; that's the car itself in the foreground).
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Local Southern California residents Ron Yerxa and Annette Ballester got the keys to the first FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell EV sedan in America. About 200 of the vehicles will be leased over the next three years around the country.

Southern California will have three Honda stores with personnel factory-trained to sell, deliver, service and maintain these truly groundbreaking family sedans.

The timing of Honda getting their FCX cars on the roads of America couldn't have been better. Just a month ago, a Shell gas station in West Los Angeles, just a few miles from the Honda of Santa Monica store, was outfitted with the equipment to store and sell hydrogen, one of about 45 places in the country where hydrogen is available to the public. Honda, at their US headquarters in Gardena, CA, also has hydrogen fuel "pumps" for filling-up hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. (GM says many of their green vehicles will first hit the road badged as Chevrolets; this Equinox hydrogen fuel cell-powered CUV was displayed at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show).
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FCX Clarity is, according to Honda, "a next-generation, hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle. Propelled by an electric motor that runs on electricity generated in the fuel cell, the vehicle's only emission is water, and its fuel efficiency is three times that of a modern gasoline-powered car."

The company says this latest-generation FCX will travel about 280 miles, or 74-mpg GGE (miles per gasoline gallon equivalent). "GGE?" Great, yet another abbreviation to remember.

General Motors will also lease about 200 Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen fuel cell EVs over the next two to three years, finding their way into government, university and industry test fleets, as well as some lucky private citizens. The monthly lease for Equinox and FCX Clarity is about $600. (FCX Clarity made news as the pace car for the IndyCar race held earlier this year at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, north of Tokyo (Honda owns the track, by the way); Danica Patrick won that race, the first woman to ever win an open-wheel car race at that high level).
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There's an old joke in the car business about the public doing the last million miles of road-testing for new GM products, but in this case, it's more true than not. Visit GM's and Honda's websites, www.honda.com, www.gm.com, to find out how to qualify for a test drive.

Ever wonder how astronauts get electricity and drinking water in space? Fuel cells.

First described as theory in 1839, the first working model was built in 1845. Fuel cells' first commercial use was in the US' Mercury manned space program. Today, large industrial fuel cell installations supply back-up power for hospitals, factories, office buildings and government installations worldwide. And there are tests being run to see how fuel cells might power private homes, much to the chagrin of power companies around the world.

How do they work? Pressurized hydrogen passes through a fuel cell "stack," really a series of chemical membranes, producing electricity and H2O. Which is how astronauts get their water and electricity, and how fuel cell cars, like Equinox and FCX Clarity, work. (BMW was awarded Green Car of the Year at the New York Auto Show earlier this year for this 118d model; it's powered by one of the new clean diesel engines headed to the US over the next few years).

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BMW and Mazda have begun loaning and leasing a small number of 7-series "Hydrogen 7" and RX-8 "Hydrogen RE" models, outfitted with existing piston and rotary engines modified to run on both gasoline and hydrogen (but not at the same time).

No greenhouse gases are produced when hydrogen is used in ICE engines, because there's no carbon in the fuel (find out more at: www.bmw.com, www.mazda.com).

Mazda and BMW have gone this dual-fuel route because there is no wide-spread hydrogen infrastructure -- as yet. But existing oil and natural gas pipelines and pumps could be retro-fitted for hydrogen and, voila, there's the start of our hydrogen economy. (Like most gas/electric hybrids, GM's Equinox has a nifty screen on its instrument panel informing all who care to know how much gas ... or hydrogen ... is being used. Anyway, it's a new form of in-car entertainment).
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America is now fighting wars on several fronts, from the Horn of Africa throughout the Mideast and on to Turkey, in Mexico and throughout many Central and South American nations, almost anywhere there are oil fields or might be in the future, all for the sake of filling our gas tanks.

Like any addict, the first thing we have to do is admit we have a problem. Nationally, we haven't come close to doing that, with the two old men running the country keeping the oil companies close to their hearts and their bank accounts.

If John McCain is elected, then America, and the world, can expect little in the way of this necessary change-over from oil to hydrogen; but if Barack Obama is sworn in, how can he best get us on the road to using hydrogen, along with wind and sea power, as a critical element in producing electricity for this country ... and for our cars?