A new car from Hyundai runs on a fuel that has a truly endless supply: human poop.
Hydrogen created from sewage at a waste treatment plant in Orange County, California, will power fuel cells in the Hyundai Tuscon, available for leasing later this spring in a limited area around Los Angeles.
Right now, there are only about 10 hydrogen fuel pumps in the entire state, and most are supplied with hydrogen that’s made from natural gas. But the Orange County Sanitation District is testing out new technology that can make hydrogen cheaply by processing solid waste and feeding it to microbes that turn it into methane. The fuel will be pumped to local stations, making it possible for Hyundai to put its car on the streets.
For now, it’s only going to be available in the immediate area. “We want to make sure with this car that customers have pretty easy access to hydrogen,” says Jim Trainor, a spokesperson for Hyundai. “If there were more hydrogen stations, we could have more customers. We’ll plan more when the infrastructure’s in place.”
Though there are few stations available now, the company says that hasn’t stopped customers from asking for the car; over 90,000 people have expressed interest, Hyundai says. Others in the auto industry has been wanting to introduce fuel cell cars for several years, and Hyundai decided to finally take that step, even if the infrastructure isn’t fully in place.
“It’s the chicken and egg theory,” says Trainor. “And we just didn’t want to wait any longer. We’ve got the vehicles, we’ve got the technology.”
To make things easier for the first customers, the company will be paying for all fuel costs. “We want them to have a good experience. We don’t want them waiting for fuel, we don’t want them driving all over for fuel,” Trainor says. “We’ll handle paying for the fuel, because there are also issues with what it costs—a lot of the hydrogen fuel cell stations right now just aren’t capable of charging what you’d pay for gas.”
The tank fills up in about three minutes, and the car can travel for around 300 miles before filling up again. It looks like a typical SUV, with just a minor difference: There’s a little less space behind the rear seats to leave space for the fuel tank.
For anyone worried about a Hindenburg-like explosion, Trainor insists that the car is extremely safe. “The fuel tank’s an inch thick and wrapped in carbon fiber,” he says. “In testing, we tried to penetrate it with a high-powered rifle, we set in on fire, we crash-tested it. The thing’s impenetrable."
The car is available for leasing at $499 a month—not a bad deal for the typical lengthy Southern California commute, considering customers never have to pay for gas. And they'll never contribute to LA-area smog: The only exhaust is water vapor.