The first hydrogen-powered car is here! Except it’s a toy

Finally — someone has released the first mass-market hydrogen-powered car!

Except it’s a toy. Except that’s still pretty cool. As various sites have pointed out, the H-Racer makes for a great educational toy, since it shows kids how you can use solar energy to generate hydrogen — which then powers your car to peel rubber through the neighborhood.

Gizomodo made the obvious-but-true joke …

Now all they have to do is just bring this baby up to full size and add a steering wheel. Yeah, that oughta happen in about 200 years or so.

They’re right, for all sorts of sad engineering and political reasons. But here’s the thing: The H-Racer illustrates that fuel-cell technology really is ready for prime time. It’s just that what it’s ready for is not full-sized cars — but pocket-sized gadgets.

The problems standing in the way of fuel cells for full-sized cars are legion: There’s no national infrastructure for delivering hydrogen (like there is for gasoline); getting regulatory approval for a new form of car fuel-system isn’t easy; and in any case the major oil and auto companies have little interest in pursuing alternative fuels right now. But none of this is true of smaller gadgets.

Consider laptops. One energy expert I spoke to a while back argued that it’d be easy to engineer a laptop that would run for 30 hours on a single AA-battery-sized fuel cell. You’d just slide the cell into your laptop, let it do its magic, and replace it when it’s spent. “Sure,” the expert said, “your laptop would generate a tiny bit of water, but that’s not hard to contain and dispose of.” What’s more, battery-sized hydrogen cells could easily be rolled out nationally and sold at corner stores; no distro problem there.

Most business travellers I know would happily endure a laptop that urinated, so long as it lasted all the way to Japan and back on one battery.

(Thanks to Core 77 for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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