Automakers pumped about fuel cell potential
By Ed Garsten
CNN Detroit Bureau Chief
January 4, 2000
Web posted at: 5:05 p.m. EST (2205 GMT)
This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.
DETROIT (CNN) -- Pumping gas to power cars with electric motors: that's what drivers in the 21st century are likely to be doing within the first decade, according to engineers at General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler.
U.S. automakers are working furiously to develop vehicles for widespread use that are powered by fuel cells -- the same gizmos that help power NASA's space shuttles.
With fuel cells under the hood, Earth-bound drivers could still fill up their cars, trucks and SUVs with gasoline.
Today's internal combustion engines burn gasoline. Little explosions inside the engine block that occur when the spark plugs ignite the gasoline make the pistons pump up and down. That turns the drive shaft, which then turns the wheels that make your car go.
In a fuel cell vehicle, gasoline, methanol or hydrogen can be used as a fuel.
When gasoline or methanol is used, the fuel cell extracts hydrogen from the fuel and converts it into electricity, which powers the vehicle.
For both the automakers and the government, one of the most attractive attributes of fuel cells is that they would reduce pollution with all types of fuel. When hydrogen is used, the only emission is water vapor, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler have all unveiled working prototypes. The automakers say they prefer to pursue the potential of fuel cell vehicles over pure electric ones because the public would not have to change its time-honored habit of "filling up."
Pure electric vehicles require bulky batteries that provide a driving range of 40-60 miles before having to be recharged. Fuel cells would let you drive as many as 80 miles on one gallon of gasoline.
Now the automakers' goal is to find a way to produce fuel cell vehicles so they can be sold at a generally affordable price. Right now, even the most modest fuel cell-powered sedan would cost as much as $80,000. The intent is to shrink that sticker price to a more widely manageable $20,000-$25,000.
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