While many early fuel-cell vehicles were largely show cars, being displayed at auto shows and “Green-Car” gatherings, the latest generation of fuel cell cars are now real running prototypes,

While many early fuel-cell vehicles were largely show cars, being displayed at auto shows and “Green-Car” gatherings, the latest generation of fuel cell cars are now real running prototypes, capable of handling all the normal duties that we expect of our vehicles, and doing them under real-world conditions. Helping to promote the development of fuel cell vehicles, the US Department of Energy is sponsoring a National Hydrogen Learning Demonstration, in which major automakers are providing fuel cell prototype vehicles for use by a wide variety of people, not just automotive engineers, so that they can educate the public about such cars, while at the same time getting an understanding of how well such vehicles meet the needs of the general public.

These fuel cell cars are being tested in a wide variety of environments, including summer testing in one of the hottest places on earth, Death Valley, California. Summertime temperatures typically hit 115 to 125° F (46 to 52°C) each day. Steep hills around the valley provide the perfect place for driving up the hills, straining the engine and cooling system, and thus seeing if these cars have what it takes to meet the customer’s expectations of a cool interior and no mechanical breakdowns despite the extreme outside temperature.

These recent photos capture a pair of fuel cell cars being driven in Death Valley on a very hot July day. The cars include the Daimler-Chrysler F-Cell, and the Nissan Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV). Providing the needed fuel is a special Hydrogen refueling trailer provided by Air Products Corporation.

For all companies, developing a fuel-cell vehicle with the performance, range, and retail price that consumers will accept is a daunting challenge. It will certainly be additional years before any company will put such a vehicle on the market in more than very limited numbers. But this kind of long-term research and testing is a critical part of the path towards the goal of producing vehicles that produce zero-emissions, while also freeing us from dependence on oil.

More photos after the jump

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