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Alternative Transportation Fuels

Hydrogen Powered Vehicles: A Saskatchewan First

One much touted green alternative to gasoline and diesel fuel is hydrogen. Burning hydrogen produces only energy and water, so there are no pollutants or GHGs.

Hydrogen (H) should be the ideal fuel, since it is the most abundant substance in the universe. However, it takes energy to extract it from parent materials like water (H20). The ultimate energy system would involve an economical way to use solar or wind power to make hydrogen.

Developing a hydrogen-based economy involves a number of steps, one step being prototype hydrogen powered vehicles. In 2004-2005, the Saskatchewan Research Council developed the world's first hydrogen-diesel and hydrogen-gasoline vehicles.

The world's first hydrogen/diesel truck was the result of a feasibility study on hydrogen fuel being conducted by SRC for the Ecce Energy Corporation, a Saskatchewan company. The study demonstrates the technical feasibility of dual-fueling existing diesel and gasoline truck models with hydrogen.

Proprietary hydrogen systems being developed in Saskatchewan are considered a critical bridging technology as the transportation industry moves towards vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Dual fuel vehicles burn hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, whereas a fuel cell is more like a battery and uses hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity.

It is anticipated that greenhouse gas (GHG) and other tailpipe emissions will be significantly reduced by using hydrogen blends. SRC's unique modification of existing vehicles to use hydrogen alongside conventional fuels provides an opportunity to reduce emissions at the lowest cost, with greatest flexibility for the vehicle operator.

Automakers Enter the Hydrogen Market

Production ready consumer vehicles fueled by hydrogen has long been thought to be a pipe dream. But now some major automakers are willing to bet on a hydrogen fueled future. Toyota is no stranger to introducing the market to revolutionary technology, having already proved this skill with the huge success of the Toyota Prius. Continuing to reach past what consumers accept as reality, Toyota has announced the "Mirai" (Japanese for future), a car set to launch in 2016 powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

The hydrogen fuel cell powered Toyota Mirai hits the market in 2016

The Mirai will only see a very limited launch in Japan and California in it's first year, producing only 200 for sale in the U.S. and 20 fuel cell filling stations, to be expanded to 48 in the following year. California has already proven to be a fertile testing site for green transportation with the success of the homegrown Tesla Motors. Hydrogen powered cars offer consumers a longer range and faster refueling times than electric cars, but this all comes at a price.

Hydrogen fueling stations are much more expensive to build than electric charging stations, and can't support as many fills per day. For comparison, if the same amount of money was spent on infrastructure for electric charging as hydrogen fueling, EV charging could support nearly 60 times as many vehicles. This could all change of course given the market's reaction to hydrogen powered cars. If consumers decide that quicker fueling and longer ranges are worth more inconvenient and expensive fueling, hydrogen cars may become more popular and infrastructure and fueling costs will go down.

Active Transportation

One of the most effective alternatives to gas powered vehicles is called active transportation, that is, human powered transportation by foot or bicycle.

In addition to reducing GHG emissions, pollution, and resource consumption, regular participation in active transportation can result in the reduction of health risks of 30-40 percent for breast cancer, 30-40 percent for colon cancer, and 50 percent for Type 2 diabetes. It can also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and even depression.

Another benefits to active transportation is financial. The Canadian Automotive Association estimated that the average cost of driving a vehicle in Canada in 2003 was 53 cents per kilometre or $9,525 per year (based on gas price of 80.1 cents/L and an annual driving distance of 18,000 kilometres).

And remember that cycling can even be faster than driving during peak commuting hours.