How Does a Hydrogen Car Work? A Simple Explanation

Richard H Webb
3 min readJul 27, 2023
Hydrogen fuel cell system in a vehicle

Have you ever wondered how hydrogen-powered cars work, and why they’re considered eco-friendly? Well, buckle up as we take you on a fascinating journey into the world of hydrogen cars! In this article, we’ll explain the magic behind these vehicles in a way that’s easy to understand.

The Hydrogen Fuel

At the heart of a hydrogen car is its fuel, hydrogen gas (H2). Hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant element in the universe, and it’s a fantastic energy carrier. But wait, where do we get this hydrogen fuel? Well, it can be produced in a few ways, like splitting water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen through a process called electrolysis. This process uses electricity, often sourced from renewable energy like wind or solar power, making hydrogen an eco-friendly option.

The Fuel Cell Stack

The real magic begins in the fuel cell stack. Imagine a stack of pancakes, but instead of fluffy treats, each “pancake” in the stack is a fuel cell. These fuel cells are tiny power generators, and when hydrogen gas enters the fuel cell stack, something incredible happens.

The Chemical Reaction

Inside each fuel cell, hydrogen molecules meet oxygen molecules from the air. They’re so eager to react that they split into positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. The protons happily pass through a special membrane called the proton exchange membrane, while the electrons are sent on a different path to create electricity.

Electricity and Water

As the protons move through the membrane, they generate an electric current that powers an electric motor. That’s right; the electricity is the juice that drives the car’s wheels! And here’s the best part — when hydrogen meets oxygen, they join together and create a harmless byproduct: water vapor. That’s why hydrogen cars are often called “water cars” since their only emission is pure water.

Another view of a hydrogen fuel cell system in a vehicle

Refueling Hydrogen Cars

When you’re low on fuel in a hydrogen car, you head to a hydrogen refueling station. It’s like filling up a regular gas tank, but instead of gasoline, you pump hydrogen gas into the car’s tank. The process is quick, just a few minutes, and you’re ready to hit the road again.

Advantages of Hydrogen Cars

Hydrogen cars have some fantastic advantages. They offer a long driving range, like regular gasoline cars, so you won’t have to worry about frequent refueling on long trips. Plus, refueling with hydrogen is super speedy compared to charging an electric car, making it more convenient. However, how does an electric vehicle compare? Hydrogen vs electric cars is not covered here, but just know that electric car infrastructure is way ahead.

There you have it — the magic of hydrogen cars explained in a simple way! These eco-friendly vehicles use hydrogen gas to generate electricity through a chemical reaction, powering an electric motor and creating only water vapor as a byproduct. With their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote cleaner air, hydrogen cars are paving the way for a greener future in the world of transportation. So, the next time you see a hydrogen car on the road, you’ll know just how it works! Stay curious and keep exploring the wonders of science and technology.

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Richard H Webb

Richard Webb is the author of "Fat Burning Secrets" on Amazon, and a tech, travel and fitness blogger.