‘The future’ is a mysterious place.
And our first encounter with ‘the future’ is ‘the now’.
Today I felt like I encountered the future when I drove a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. And far from being mysterious it was remarkably unremarkable.
The raw driving experience was similar to using a conventional car with automatic transmission.
But instead of filling the car with liquid fuel derived from fossil plant matter, I filled it with hydrogen gas at a pressure 700 times greater than atmospheric pressure.
This was achieved using a pump similar in appearance to a conventional petrol pump.
This was the interface to some industrial plant which generated 80 kg of hydrogen each day from nothing more than electricity and water. This is enough to fill roughly 20 cars.
This is small scale in comparison with a conventional petrol station, but these are early days. We are still at the interface with the future. Or one possible future.
Some years ago, I remember making measurements of the temperature and humidity inside a fuel cell during operation.
The measurements were difficult, and the results surprising – to me at least.
And at the end of the project I remember thinking “Well, that was interesting, but it will never work in practice”.
Allow me please to eat my words: it works fine.
Today I was enormously impressed by the engineering prowess that made the fuel cell technology transparent to the driver.
What I learned today was that the technology to make cars which emit no pollution at their point of use exists, now.
The range of this car is 300 miles and it takes only 5 minutes to re-fill. When there are more re-filling stations than the dozen or so currently around the UK, this will become a very attractive proposition.
I have no idea if fuel cell cars will become ubiquitous. Or whether they will become novelties like steam-powered cars from the end of the nineteenth century.
Perhaps this will represent the high-water mark of this technology. Or perhaps this will represent the first swallow in a summer of fuel cell cars.
None of us can know the future. But for the present, I was impressed.
It felt like the future was knocking on the door and asking us to hurry up.