Hydrogen Cars Are Almost Here, But...

BMW's hydrogen-burning internal combustion cars by-pass the cost and durability constraints of fuel cells.

Published: 18-Jan-2005

At the January auto show in Los Angeles, U.S. car enthusiasts got their first look at the H2R, a race car from BMW. Building it took just 10 months, but the race it's designed to win will last for the next 10 years and beyond. It's the race to stem pollution from vehicles that burn gasoline and diesel fuels.

The H2R runs on hydrogen, the gas that lights the sun. All carmakers are scrambling to harness this clean fuel, driven by long-term worries about oil supplies as well as environmental harm. Washington and other governments share the concerns.

When it comes to hydrogen vehicles, most car companies are counting on little under-the-hood chemical refineries known as fuel cells. Trouble is, a fuel-cell system powerful enough for a car would add roughly $100,000 to sticker prices today. And then there's an even tougher problem: Where would drivers get the fuel? Fewer than 100 filling stations in the whole world now pump hydrogen. So it could be a couple of decades before fuel-cell cars become popular enough to make a dent either in pollution or in petroleum consumption.

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