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Can Fuel-Cell Technology Clean the Air?

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Jane Marsh's picture

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

  • Member since 2020
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  • Mar 23, 2021

The automotive industry periodically attempts to reduce its environmental impact. Cars with combustion engines are less expensive but release harmful emissions. Electric vehicles are environmentally friendly but not yet completely practical.

The third option is to pursue an entirely different dynamic. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles go above and beyond standard energy, as they may now be able to clean the air as they operate.

New vehicle models from Hyundai and Toyota show promising signs of cleaning the air without giving off any harmful emissions. If this technology becomes the norm, then massive environmental change can finally kick into gear.

Can Hydrogen Vehicles Clean Air?

In 2018, transportation accounted for 28% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the most of any sector. To drastically curb that harm, the nation must move away from traditional combustion vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cells are the solution. While combustion engines maintain a 35% efficiency rate, fuel cells are 80% effective, giving them a clear advantage.

Now, the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo are making headlines as two of the most progressive vehicles on the market. Formerly, fuel cell vehicles only produced water vapor as emissions, without carbon or harmful emissions. However, these two models show that the automotive industry can go beyond zero emissions and achieve “minus emissions.”

Since no gases will be coming or going from the car, these models have a unique opportunity to house a purification system. The Mirai, for instance, uses a few steps to clean the air. First, a catalyst filter removes dust and pollutants. It can filter out some harsher substances like sulfur dioxide, ammonia, and nitrogen dioxide. Then, a second filter captures microscopic pollutants.

The Mirai uses a HEPA filter that can capture particulate matter as small as 0.3 microns, which is essential for effective purification. After the first stage, air filters in through a PM2.5 particulate filter. Here, the car captures the more harmful particles, cleaning the air and making it more breathable.

The Nexo follows a similar process and filters out the same harmful substances. During a test run of this vehicle, the Nexo cleaned almost 2,000 pounds of air during a 350-mile trip.

This kind of filtration from both vehicles is a promising indication of what’s to come for the industry — a hydrogen revolution.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

Ultimately, it appears that these two fuel-cell vehicles can, indeed, clean the air. However, this technology will need to take off on a much larger scale to be more effective, both within the automotive sector and in other industries. Fortunately, some changes are already in motion to make this fuel-cell tech a norm.

Some state governments are pushing for greener initiatives and practices. For instance, the California government released a plan to phase out new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Instead, automotive manufacturers will need to focus on cleaner solutions, like hydrogen fuel cells. This shift alone could create a more immediate adoption of air-purifying car tech.

As Hyundai states, the Nexo’s system can filter out 99.9% of harmful gases and microscopic particles. Implementing this technology in transportation methods of all kinds, and energy generation plants in general, would bring about a new dynamic — one where people are producing completely clean energy in every way possible.

With more adoption in the automotive industry alone, drivers can clean the air without putting in any effort. The car will automatically purify the air while only emitting water vapor. This idea of “minus emissions” can then become a reality.

Cleaner Air for a Prosperous Future

With the tech from Toyota and Hyundai as a basis, the world can move forward with fuel cell systems that actively clean the air. If this dynamic remains effective, it would be a major step forward for both a sustainable energy source and a way to clean the air that fossil fuels have already polluted.


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