Hydrogen (H2) is the simplest and most abundant element on earth. Because it can be produced from a diverse set of resources and has many benefits, hydrogen has been gaining popularity as an alternative fuel source. In nature, hydrogen bonds with other elements, so pure hydrogen gas must be produced by separating it from other compounds. The most common ways to do this are steam reforming and electrolysis. When used on a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), this fuel only emits water vapor and warm air exhaust. Hydrogen vehicles and fuel cells are still in the early stages of deployment, with the U.S. Department of Energy leading efforts to make hydrogen-powered vehicles an affordable, environmentally friendly, and safe transportation option.


Hydrogen fuel is meant to be used in FCEVs, which have a fuel cell that converts hydrogen into electricity, powering a propulsion system similar to electric vehicles. Like combustion engines, they fill in less than 5 minutes and have a driving range of more than 300 miles. Hydrogen can also be used in internal combustion engines, but these produce more tailpipe emissions and are less efficient. Hydrogen is currently not used in Florida, as it is just beginning to enter the transportation market. There has been an initial roll out of hydrogen powered vehicles in California, and more recently, some northeastern states. Major research and development efforts are aimed at making these vehicles and their infrastructure practical for widespread use. 

Fuel Cells

A fuel cell is a device that uses hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity. The cell is made up of an electrolyte membrane sandwiched between a positive and negative electrode. Hydrogen and oxygen are introduced to the cell and an electrochemical reaction occurs which breaks apart the hydrogen molecules into protons and electrons. The electrons are forced to travel through an external circuit which then powers the vehicle. Afterward, the electrons recombine with the protons and oxygen to create water as a byproduct.


Hydrogen is a promising fuel source that has the potential to revolutionize our transportation system. FCEVs are two to three times more efficient than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles running on gasoline and produce no harmful tailpipe exhaust, just water vapor and warm air. Like many alternative fuels, hydrogen can be produced domestically from a diverse group of energy sources, increasing energy security.


While hydrogen has the potential to produce near zero GHG emissions, there are some factors that should be considered before making the switch to hydrogen. Hydrogen’s energy content by volume is low, requiring high pressures, low temperatures, or chemical processes to be stored compactly. This makes storing hydrogen a challenge for light-duty vehicles because they often have limited size and weight capacity for fuel storage. There is currently research being done to address this problem. Another issue with hydrogen as a fuel source is that the current costs of fuel cells, production, and storage of hydrogen are too high to be competitive in the market. Since the technology is fairly new compared to other alternative fuels, hydrogen infrastructure is currently only located in certain areas, making it infeasible to many geographic locations. As more research and development is put into hydrogen fuel, there will be more opportunities to get involved throughout the country. 

Further Reading

Fuel Cell’s Technology Office (FCTO) focuses on applied research, development, and innovation to advance hydrogen and fuel cells for transportation and diverse applications enabling energy security, resiliency, and a strong domestic economy in emerging technologies.

The Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Interagency Working Group is composed of federal agencies that collaborate and share information about hydrogen and fuel cells.

The Hydrogen Analysis Resource Center provides well-documented, reliable data for use in evaluating hydrogen-related technologies

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