Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Meet The Electric Car That Doesn't Need To Be Plugged In

Business
Toyota Mirai is displayed during the 89th Geneva International Motor Show on March 5 in Switzerland. Robert Hradil / Getty Images

By Sue Carpenter

Pop quiz: Is a hydrogen car an electric car?


If you answered (or guessed) yes, you're correct. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric vehicles that generate power through a chemical reaction while they're being driven, instead of needing to be plugged in to charge.

"From an operational perspective, it's the same. You have a steering wheel, you have a transmission," said Tom DeLuise, national commercial and government fleet sales manager for Toyota Motor North America. His company makes a zero-emissions fuel cell EV called the Mirai.

"The difference is the vehicle is running on hydrogen fuel." So it emits nothing but water from the tailpipe. And yes, people have sipped it. (But why?)

Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, or FCEVs, have been in development for decades but only commercially available since 2016. Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are the only car companies that sell them in the U.S.

Approximately 1,100 have been sold so far in California, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

If the very notion of a hydrogen car conjures images of the Hindenburg exploding into flames, that fear is largely unjustified. Yes, hydrogen is flammable. But so is gasoline. The two fuels are roughly comparable in terms of safety.

One advantage of a hydrogen car over a plug-in is that it only takes about five minutes to fill up. However, there are only 40 places to do it in California — at least right now.

And then there's the cost.

Buying one is about $60,000, which is roughly the same as a plug-in electric, but almost double the average price Americans are currently paying for a new vehicle.

Riverside startup StratosShare has a plan to make them more accessible and affordable. You can rent them by the hour, day or week, starting at $10 for 60 minutes — fuel and insurance included. Drivers can use an app to locate, reserve, pay for and unlock a zero-emissions Toyota Mirai.

CE-CERT, the engineering school at the University of California at Riverside, is one of three areas where StratosShare is operating so-called landing zones to pick up and drop off the cars. The other two are in downtown Riverside and at San Bernardino International airport.

All of the locations are in areas the California Environmental Protection Agency has identified as a disadvantaged community, where air quality is poor and incomes are generally lower than in other parts of the state.

StratosShare is operating in the Inland Empire, because it received a grant from the state to provide zero-emission rides for Spanish-speaking communities in the Riverside area.

"We're trying to make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles accessible to the public for people who otherwise wouldn't know what a hydrogen car is or have access to one," said StratosShare co-founder Jonathan Palacios-Avila.

Car sharing isn't new. Zipcar and General Motors' Maven also rent cars by the hour in various Southern California cities. And Blue LA offers a zero-emissions car share in Los Angeles using battery-electrics. What's different about StratosShare is that it's the first to use hydrogen fuel cell vehicles exclusively.

Right now, StratosShare has just 15 Toyota Mirais to share. All of them are located in parts of the Inland Empire with high utilization, according to Palacios-Avila.

The big idea is that instead of hopping into a ride-hail, or renting a gas-powered car from a more traditional rental car agency, there's another, zero-emissions option to get around.

Shams Tanvir, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Riverside, who researches ways to make environmentally-friendly transportation accessible to the masses, said that car sharing is one way to get the most out of our cars.

Fewer vehicles are needed overall, because "they're utilizing this car more often. That would create in turn less number of cars on the roads," Tanvir said.

And ideally, less pollution because hydrogen cars are emissions free. They do not generate the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change when they are driven.

StratosShare is an offshoot of StratosFuel, a company Palacios Avila co-founded five years ago to produce hydrogen fuel. Next year, that company plans to build a renewable hydrogen plant in the Moreno Valley that can produce enough fuel to power 4,000 hydrogen vehicles a day.

Hydrogen fuel can be produced renewably, using nothing but water, solar and wind.

By making hydrogen fuel more available, renewable and affordable, Palacios-Avila said the costs of owning and operating a hydrogen car will drop to a price that's more similar to gas.

"The only way is through access — through increased availability," he said.

Within the next year, he plans to expand StratosShare to 50 cars and bring the service to Los Angeles and Orange County.

This story originally appeared in LAist. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Hurricane Florence on Sept. 12, 2018. ESA / A.Gerst / CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 hurricane season is now expected to be the most active since at least the early 1980s, meteorologists at Colorado State University, a standard bearer for seasonal hurricane predictions, announced Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
The Qamutik cargo ship on July 28, 2020 in Canada's Nunavut province, where two ice caps have disappeared completely. Fiona Paton / Flickr

Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.

Read More Show Less
The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. European Environmental Agency / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Katell Ané

The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. It is the newest strategy under the European Green Deal, setting sustainability targets for farmers, consumers, and policymakers.

Read More Show Less
President Trump signs an executive order regulating social media on May 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. Doug Mills-Pool / Getty Images

Facebook and Twitter removed posts by President Donald Trump and his campaign Wednesday for violating their policies against spreading false information about COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute staff and volunteers try to help a stranded bottlenose dolphin in Cockroach Bay near Ruskin, Florida on Sept. 17, 2015. FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

A new study gives a first look at the presence and potential effects of plastics and new forms of synthetic chemicals in stranded dolphins and whales along the coast of the southeastern U.S.

Read More Show Less
Smoke rises above wrecked buildings following a deadly explosion on Aug. 4, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. Marwan Tahtah / Getty Images

By Alexander Freund

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Black Americans are dying from Covid-19 at more than twice the rate of white Americans, and at younger ages, partly due to poor diets that make bodies less resistant to the coronavirus. Mireya Acierto / Getty Images

By Michelle D. Holmes

Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.

As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.

Read More Show Less