Fuel cell electric cars are powered by the most abundant element in the universe: hydrogen. Although a fuel cell car runs on electricity, it does so differently than battery-powered or plug-in hybrid cars. In a fuel cell, hydrogen reacts electrochemically to produce electricity to power the car.
Fuel cell cars are powered by compressed hydrogen gas that feeds into an onboard fuel cell “stack” that doesn’t burn the gas, but instead transforms the fuel’s chemical energy into electrical energy. This electricity then powers the car’s electric motors. Tailpipe emissions are zero, and the only waste produced is pure water.
The construction of the fuel cell is similar to a battery. Hydrogen enters the anode, where it comes in contact with a catalyst that promotes the separation of hydrogen atoms into an electron and proton. The electrons are gathered by the conductive current collector, which is connected to the car’s high-voltage circuitry, feeding the onboard battery and/or the motors that turn the wheels.
Fuel cell cars are available for sale or lease by major automakers in popular vehicle types, including sedans and compact SUVs. As the numbers increase, stakeholders are working to ensure hydrogen is widely available to drivers.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are quiet, very energy efficient, produce no emissions and have equivalent range and performance to gasoline counterparts. Drivers identify range, refueling time, emissions, power and performance as valuable vehicle characteristics.
While a fuel cell car acquisition can cost more than comparable sized conventional cars, current leasing packages usually include fuel, service and maintenance to compensate. With these incentives included, total cost of ownership for a fuel cell car can be comparable to conventional cars.
Fuel cell cars are eligible for a $5,000 rebate ($7,000 for income qualified purchasers) from California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. They also qualify for the Clean Air Vehicle decal to drive solo in the carpool lanes, as well as various programs to support clean transportation ownership in low income and disadvantaged communities. Check for other incentives in your region.
Fuel cell cars can carry enough hydrogen fuel for 300-400 miles of range and their tanks can be refilled as quickly as that of a standard car’s gas tank. Current lease deals often include up to three years of complimentary fuel. At the pump, hydrogen sells for considerably more than gasoline, however, a fuel cell car travels about twice as far as a conventional car on an equivalent amount of fuel.
California Hydrogen Initiatives
Get latest regulatory updates on hydrogen fueling infrastructure from the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP)
Industry/government collaboration aimed at expanding the market for fuel cell electric vehicles powered by hydrogen.
U.S. Department of Energy – Fuel Cell Vehicles
Federal government website providing overview of fuel cell technology and a comparison between available models.
California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC)
Advocacy group comprised of over 100 companies and agencies working to advance the commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell industry.
Electric For All Fuel Cell Cars
A comprehensive listing of fuel cell electric car models currently available in California, including incentives.