Assuming you can overcome the problems with hydrogen as a fuel, you potentially have a massive source of clean energy. The problems are considerable, and they have vexed scientists for decades.
Enter China. The massive country with more than a billion people and a rapidly expanding economy has some serious energy issues. As a result, the Chinese have for years been eager to examine the possible application of virtually any technology.
Many villages in China are home to vast, rather primitive, networks of hoses that snake around homes and farms, held aloft by a motley collection of timber and cables. These hoses carry simply-produced gases, often methane generated by compost, manure and other rotting piles of refuse, to homes and businesses, where the gas is burned for heat and cooking.
However, China is home to a massive and massively mobile working population. The country sees seasonal migrations of labour forces from home provinces to factory cities and between different factory cities.
China's Ever Expanding Economy
Average incomes are steadily rising in China as the country cultivates an ever-expanding domestic economy in a bid to insulate itself from dependency on traditional customers like Europe and the USA. The challenges inherent in trying to support the aspirations of more than a billion consumers, all eager to have their own private homes, appliances and transport, are considerable. Get it wrong, and China faces economic, social and environmental disaster.
So, it comes as little real surprise to those acquainted with the Chinese dedication to long-term solutions to hear of each new announcement about revolutionary campaigns aimed at addressing these challenges. The single-most significant such revolution came with the process, which began in the 1970s, of transforming the country's centrally planned economy into a Socialist market economy.
In some ways, this change in economic management has fostered the massive industrial and economic expansion that is driving China's emergency need to find ever more efficient sources of power and transportation. Certainly, China faces some incredible environmental challenges as a result of its capitalistic success.
Beijing Olympic Games had Pollution free Air
Enter hydrogen power in China. It has been clear for a while that China cannot continue to feed its energy needs from coal and hydro-electric power alone. The environmental toll has already been huge. The pollution has become so bad, the government had to shut down both traffic and manufacturing for months before the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in order to clear the air enough for the international athletic competition.
In recent years, the Chinese have demonstrated real promise in the area of hydrogen-fuel vehicles. Hopefully, a revolution in eco-cars in this giant nation will fuel global growth in green vehicles.
Hydrogen-Fuel Cell Bicycle
One of the earliest notable developments was the hydrogen fuel cell bicycle. Chinese companies started marketing these interesting Green Vehicles more than five years ago. For the moment, China seems to be keen to keep this impressive technology to itself and few, if any, overseas marketing ventures have been initiated.
Lightweight motorcycles powered by hydrogen fuel cells have also started to appear. For now, however, efficiency issues and the need for an installed network of hydrogen 'filling stations' prevents these forms of personal transport taking off, especially in the West.
Leading Edge Alternative Fuel Technology
The companies producing such leading-edge alternative-fuel technology tend to be involved with bigger projects, such as fleets of hydrogen cars and buses for organisational or municipal applications. The Beijing Olympics was notable not just for the rapid cleansing of the city's air pollution but also for the hydrogen-powered buses and cars supplied to ferry visitors and athletes around the competition.
Late last year, the hydrogen transport industry got another big boost with the announcement of a new hydrogen-powered rail service in China. In December, the Chinese government announced a new light-rail system had gone into service.
China North Vehicle Yongji Electric Motor Corporation worked with Southwest Jiaotong University to develop the locomotive used on the new light-rail service. The locomotive is powered by hydrogen fuel cells supplying electricity to a high-tech new motor using permanent magnets.
China is far from alone in developing vehicles that use hydrogen fuel cells. US automaker GM, for example, has recently concluded a large test of 100 hydrogen-fuel vehicles used for private transportation. So far, however, China appears to be the only nation investing in a range of real, large-scale transport projects that make use of hydrogen power and electric vehicles.