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SRS scientist: Hydrogen cars will be everywhere soon

Dr. Motyka of SRS says almost all the auto companies have hydrogen vehicles under testing right now. (WRDW-TV / July 28, 2011)
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News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, July 28, 2011

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. -- New 12 took a bus trip that was a bit unusual. School was not the destination and the bus driver has a Ph.D.

Probably the most unusual of all was what was happening under the hood. It was the familiar internal combustion system, but of hydrogen gas, not gasoline.

"Basically, it's almost a standard engine, and it's just been modified for hydrogen use," Dr. Ted Motyka said.

He was the bus driver for the day and is also the Hydrogen Program manager for the Savannah River National Laboratory at SRS. They don't just have the bus; they also have a Chevrolet Silverado which uses similar technology.

"This whole vehicle holds about 10 kilograms of hydrogen and gets about a 150 to 175 mile range," he said of the Silverado.

They're interesting toys, but they're also important research tools at the Center for Hydrogen Research, where Motyka works. The goal of the state-of-the-art facility is developing hydrogen fuel technologies that will replace fossil fuels like gasoline one day.

What is hydrogen?

"It is the cleanest source we have, and the nice thing about hydrogen ... is you can make it. It's diverse. You an make it from almost anything," Motyka said. "Theoretically, you can make it from coal if you have to. You can make it from natural gas."

But you can also make it from something even simpler: water. In a lab at the Center for Hydrogen Research, scientists actually use solar energy to make electricity. They run this electricity through water to create hydrogen and store that hydrogen in a fuel cell. Then, they could theoretically use that fuel cell to power a house or business.

Similar technology could also keep you from paying high gas prices and actually let you pump renewable, clean-burning hydrogen in your tank instead.

"2015 -- you'll see more on the road, no doubt," Motyka said.

It sounds like science fiction, but it's actually becoming science fact.

"Almost all the auto companies have hydrogen vehicles under test now, and many are being leased. Toyota and Honda, Ford and General Motors all have lease programs that are in the hands of the general public, and people are driving fuel-cell vehicles around," he said.

There are a few obstacles facing hydrogen technology. Chiefly, it still very expensive to use. Also, there aren't a lot of places to refuel hydrogen vehicles right now. They'll also have to develop fuel cells that last as long as your engine does. Of course, the goal of Motyka's lab is solving some of those issues.

Many hope this facility in Aiken County could bring jobs, international attention and prosperity to the surrounding area.