Hydrogen power has been on the drawing board for decades, and many carmakers have hydrogen-powered prototypes showcasing the eco-friendly technology. Hydrogen is, in theory, an ideal fuel source: It's the most abundant element on Earth; it generates power when it combines with readily available oxygen in the atmosphere; and the only byproducts of the reaction are water and heat [source: Lee].
Powering a large automobile with this type of clean-burning hydrogen fuel cell is problematic right now. There are issues to overcome surrounding hydrogen production and storage before we start seeing hydrogen vehicles on car lots. But powering a tiny automobile is apparently well within reach: A toy car called H-racer runs entirely on hydrogen fuel.
H-racer is an assemble-it-yourself model car kit much like any other model car kit, with one notable exception: Instead of running on disposable batteries, H-racer runs on renewable hydrogen. It has its own hydrogen fuel cell and itty-bitty hydrogen refueling station. All you put into the system make the car go is water.
From an educate-the-kids-about-alternative-energy standpoint, it's tough to beat a hydrogen-powered RC car (actually, only H-racer 2.0 has remote steering -- the original version does not). But considering how many batteries end up in U.S. landfills every year -- about 2.4 billion -- a toy car that doesn't need any is a not just an educational novelty [source: Ji]. It has actual ecological benefits.
So what's the H-racer all about? In this article, we'll check out what's going on under the hood, what the car can do with hydrogen, and what a hydrogen toy car might mean for the future of hydrogen power. Could a palm-sized RC car help usher in the age of full-size fuel-cell fleets?
We'll get back to where the H-racer fits in with the hydrogen movement in general. For now, first things first: How does hydrogen power the H-racer, and what can the little car do?