If you’re not muddled enough yet in the alternative fuels debate, here’s the skinny on hydrogen. It’s an alternative to batteries that can offer faster “fueling” times, along with a lighter and more compact storage medium. It can be stored indefinitely with zero energy loss (provided the tank doesn’t leak). It’s safer than many people imagine (it doesn’t burn for days like lithium-ion batteries can). It can be harvested conveniently from renewable sources such as wind or solar, either on-site where it’s used (usually through engineered electrolysis) or at commercial-scale production facilities (steam-methane reforming) and transported to where it’s used, often without gobs of bricks-and-mortar infrastructure.
Once onboard the truck, the gaseous hydrogen enters the fuel cell, where it’s recombined with oxygen drawn from ambient air and flowed over a catalyst-lined membrane.
“It’s an electrochemical transaction, the reaction that produces an electron,” explains Ben Nyland, president and CEO of fuel cell maker Loop Energy. “A fuel cell basically makes that electrochemical reaction happen, and captures the electrons that result from it and feeds those out in the same way a battery would to power the motors.”