Let’s get it out of the way. For an automobile to operate without the help of oil or coal, the only way to travel is in a battery-powered car charged exclusively with solar energy. That’s a “zero emissions” vehicle. Every other car in the electric vehicle and hybrid categories create emissions from the power generated by plants running on natural gas or coal, though the reduction in emissions is significant. At the end of the day, the EV industry has a promising future ahead with “zero-tailpipe-emissions” cars.
The introduction of fuel cell vehicles complicates things. On the one hand, hydrogen fuel cells provide a much longer driving range than battery electric vehicles. Fuel cell vehicles also have the ability to change tanks and refuel in just a few minutes, rather than needing 30 minutes or more to charge. One big problem is the “well-to-wheel” process that currently invovles big emissions to make hydrogen available from natural gas. Julian Cox’s letter to the California Energy Commission, which circulated widely in May 2014, called into question the claimed emissions benefits of fuel cell vehicle manufacturers.
For now, it appears fuel cell vehicles will not present an improvement over battery electric vehicles or clean diesel cars. The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced it was investing $20 million to increase efficiency in the process of bringing usable hydrogen to the market, so it is anyone’s guess how this battle will play out. While it does, here are six cars that produce zero emissions on the road and are ready to shake up the auto industry in the coming year.
6. Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell
Hyundai took the concept of a gasoline-free vehicle and ran with it. In the Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle, Hyundai brings a small sport utililty vehicle to the table in limited leases in California at the cost of $499 per month (36 months). This SUV has a potential range of 265 miles and a top speed of 100 mph.
Obviously, Hyundai cannot market this car in higher volumes until the hydrogen fueling infrastructure improves. There are only a few places in California that allow hydrogen car drivers to change tanks. Electric cars had to start somewhere, too, so automakers investing in fuel cells have time to make the economic and environmental factors work.