Fill 'Er Up -- at Home

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Fill 'Er Up -- at Home

DETROIT -- Within 10 years, the filling station could face competition from the natural gas, electricity and even the water supplied to homes, General Motors Corp. officials said.

Cleaner, energy-efficient fuel-cell cars and trucks, expected to begin arriving in dealerships in the next decade, could be powered by hydrogen derived from a variety of sources, giving the oil industry some competition for the first time, Reuters reported.

"Quite frankly, the transportation sector, to a large extent, is held hostage to petroleum. That's been the lone source of energy for the transportation sector for a century," said GM Vice President Larry Burns, head of its research and development. "Your home could be your source of energy, your source of power, for your fuel-cell vehicle."

Fuel cells use an electrochemical process to create electricity by mixing hydrogen with the oxygen, the report said. They offer the promise of removing the car from the environmental debate because they emit little more than water and heat, reducing the greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollutants that internal combustion engines produce.

The trick to powering a fuel cell is a source of hydrogen - one of the most abundant elements in the universe, but unavailable in a pure form.

One potential answer lies in the fuel cell itself. Run backwards and plugged into an electrical outlet, the fuel cell aboard a car or truck could act as an electrolyzer to create hydrogen from water or natural gas. Such technology is already in use on submarines, which create oxygen for their crews to breathe from sea water, with hydrogen released back into the ocean.