By the end of next year, at least three automakers, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota, will be offering U.S. motorists new fuel-cell vehicles running on hydrogen rather than gasoline. They bill the technology as an environmental breakthrough, the first step towards what some are calling a “Hydrogen Society.”
But while hydrogen may be the fuel of the future, fuel cells have a surprisingly long past. The technology got its first serious use during the Apollo moon mission, and actually dates back to the mid-19th Century. Indeed, many of the technologies now showing up on today’s most advanced vehicles actually have a long history dating back decades and, in some instances, centuries.
The idea for the automobile itself can be traced back at least to the days of the Roman Empire when a self-propelled carriage — powered by tightly wound human hair, much like a rubber band – was driven into the Coliseum to entertain 3rd Century Emperor Commodius.