Instead of burning fuel like conventional engines, hydrogen fuel cells work through an electrochemical process. To produce electricity, hydrogen atoms are ionized on one side of an electrolyte membrane. While protons slip through, electrons must take the long way around through an external circuit, creating an electrical current as they move. Once the electrons reach the other side and pair off with the protons, the hydrogen combines with oxygen in the air, resulting in a little bit of heat and water as byproducts.
There’s a lot of buzz these days about electric vehicles, as years of prototypes and waiting at last give way to cars like the Chevy Volt and the Toyota Prius. But if gasoline is no longer king, is there room for solar power in the auto industry?
Synthetic fuels are one just one alternative to oil. Some synfuels are better for the environment, some are worse. Some are made from rocks found deep under the earth, and some are made from the trash in your local landfill. See what you know about the various types of synfuels in our ultimate synthetic fuels quiz.