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Hydrogen cars by 2012 says DaimlerChrysler

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DaimlerChrysler has announced that it will be ready to launch its first hydrogen-powered car by 2012. A company spokesman made the announcement in tandem with Shell Hydrogen at a hydrogen car technology exhibition in Brussels.

The company has already begun tests on 60 Mercedes A-class vehicles in Japan, Germany, Singapore and the US, according to Reuters. The test car uses fuel cell technology to generate its power. The main benefit of using hydrogen is that it is a totally clean fuel: when it is burned it leaves behind only air and water, making it an environmentally attractive alternative to the petrol engine. It would also provide an alternative to petrol as oil supplies diminish.

There are still several obstacles that need to be overcome before hydrogen-powered cars become a reality, however. Firstly, there is the question of cleanly generating enough hydrogen to power the cars. If you need a power station to obtain the hydrogen in the first place, there is no net environmental gain from switching fuels, after all.

Then there is the problem of finding a way to store the gas. It needs to be safe, in small enough cases to fit cars, and in sufficient quantities to make it worth switching the engine on. Other issues such as reliability (will the engine run in the cold etc) and the cost of production still remain to be solved.

Jeremy Bentham, Shell Hydrogen's chief executive said that energy companies would start rolling out hydrogen filling stations when there was customer demand. He acknowledged that hydrogen-powered cars could be attractive to consumers and said his job was to be prepared for that business, Reuters reports. He added that if Europe were to switch to Hydrogen as its main fuel source for its cars, it would need 50 million tons of hydrogen per year to meet demand.

Fuel cell technology has also been touted as a possible alternative to lithium-ion batteries for cell phones and PDAs. ®

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