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First Hydrogen Car talks breifly about the history of hydrogen fuel cell powered cars, but goes into greater detail about the world's first hydrogen car - The 1966 GM Electrovan. Please scroll down.

First Hydrogen Car - 1966 GM Electrovan

First Hydrogen Car

General Motor’s 1966 Electrovan – The World’s First Hydrogen Car

Hydrogen, the first element on the periodic table and the most abundant element in the universe, has powered the fusion reactions of stars for billions of years. On Earth, attempts to use it as a fuel date back over 200 years, when Swiss inventor Francois Isaac de Rivaz used both hydrogen and oxygen gas to power the first internal combustion engine in 1806. While Rivaz’s vehicle was commercially unsuccessful, additional attempts were made to harness hydrogen as a fuel over the next 150 years, meeting with limited success. In 1966 the world’s first hydrogen Car, the 1966 GM Electrovan, was built, and the age of hydrogen cars as we know them was born.

More than two years in the making, a team of 250 led by Dr. Craig Marks developed a hydrogen fuel cell after Dr. Marks learned that NASA’s Gemini spacecraft were powered internally by fuel cells. Believing that the technology had moved from possible to practical, the team first set their sights on refitting a Chevrolet Corvair, but found that the car was too small for the 1960’s era technology. They settled on the GMC Handivan, a boxy, six passenger van used mainly to transport cargo over short distances, and went to work.

Two super-cooled tanks, one filled with liquid hydrogen and the other with liquid oxygen, used 550 feet of piping to supply 32 interconnected 5kw Union Carbide fuel cells. Once completed, the Electrovan sat two and weighed twice as much as its Handivan counterpart. It had a top speed of 70 miles per hour and a range of about 120 miles, making it ideal for urban use though it never left GM’s property. It could accelerate from 0-60mph in 30 seconds, hardly acceptable in the age of V8 engines.

After the Electrovan was built, GM showed off their creation as a marvel of engineering to journalists and then promptly boxed the project. Internally, they realized that the use of several rare metals, including platinum, was cost prohibitive even when constructed on an assembly line. There were several legitimate consumer safety concerns as well. A man-sized trough filled with flame retardant in the event of chemical spills would never have sat well with the public. Leaks at certain points in the system produced what Dr. Marks called “brilliant fireworks”, and an explosion of one of the storage tanks led GM to decide that hydrogen fuel cells were not viable at that time. Even if the cost and safety barriers could be overcome, GM did not want to further invest in the project without some level of hydrogen infrastructure in place.

The Electrovan was offered to, and rejected by, the Smithsonian Institute. After decades of storage, a renewed interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology led to its rediscovery, and it has recently been on display at both the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles and the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Dr. Marks’ Electrovan was ultimately an idea that exceeded the existing level of technology. While many viewed the project as a failure, building the first hydrogen car can only be looked upon as a success today. Since GM’s attempts in the 1960’s, advancements in technology have replaced the liquid oxygen tank with air, and the technology is easily incorporated into a standard sized car. Today’s hydrogen cars can accelerate from 0-60 in 8 seconds, some models have a range of over 300 miles, and they easily exceed the strictest emission standards. Various hydrogen car models have moved beyond the concept stage and several are currently being tested with consumers. With an emerging hydrogen infrastructure in North America, Europe, and Asia, auto manufacturers are betting that hydrogen cars are not only a viable option today, but the best option as we progress further into the 21st century.

Thank you to Christian Mullins for this "First Hydrogen Car" article.

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Hydrogen Car Info Table of Contents

Hydrogen car - Introduction and home page of Going green with hydrogen fuel cell powered cars. Page 1 of this article will introduce you to the environmental toll fossil fules are putting on our environment.

Hydrogen Powered Car - Page two of Going green with hydrogen fuel cell powered cars gives you a basic introduction to the alternatives available to fossil fuels.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car - Page three of Going green with hydrogen fuel cell powered cars gets to a great possible solution to our environmental issues caused by fossil fuels, and to weather hydrogen fuel cell powered cars are efficient and clean.

Hydrogen Fuel Car - Page four of Going green with hydrogen fuel cell powered cars provides you with some basic technical information to how this energy works, and also includes our conclusion to this article.

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