Where the heck are our hydrogen-powered cars?

Getty Images
Getty Images

In the new issue of mental_floss magazine, Ethan Trex answers The Biggest Questions of 2009. All this week, he'll be answering additional questions of various sizes here on the blog.

As climate-saving plans go, few sound quite as appealing as cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells. They don't need any petroleum! They're low on emissions! They're"¦not in our garages. Why not?

Although most of us might not have seen one, there are hydrogen-powered cars out there. There just aren't very many of them. Honda began production of its FCX Clarity in 2008. The little car runs on hydrogen fuel cells and can travel up to 270 miles on a full tank of hydrogen. The car can get from 0 to 60 in 9.2 seconds—about the same as Honda's Accord. Sounds perfect, but there are a few hitches.

First, the hand-assembled car is tricky to put together; Honda can only crank out 200 of them in the first three years of production, and mass-production probably can't start until 2018. On top of that, fuel-cell cars are mind-numbingly expensive, and not just by the standards of Honda's Accord-buying public. According to Honda, just building a single 134-horsepower FCX Clarity costs several hundred thousand dollars, which is part of why the company only leases the cars instead of selling them.

Finally, there's the problem of our lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure. (When was the last time you saw a hydrogen station as you cruised down the highway?) Until there's a nationwide effort to build an infrastructure for producing, distributing, and retailing hydrogen, the cars might be little more than a pleasant daydream. When Honda announced its plans to start leasing the Clarity in 2008, only Southern California residents were eligible to drive one home, and even they had to live near one of three existing hydrogen fueling stations in the area.

Although GM, BMW, and Hyundai hope to have hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles of their own in showrooms within the next five years, some experts estimate that it will take decades before the American fleet can convert to hydrogen. If hydrogen cars can't really take off in significant numbers until 2050, it might be too late for the technology to make a meaningful impact on how we drive.

Bonus Question: Why are there different types of gas (premium, regular, and super) but it seems like there is only one gas tanker?

You can't judge a tanker truck by its shiny metallic covering. Although from the outside these trucks look like one gigantic tank, they're actually divided into a series of compartments. Each compartment contains a certain grade of gas so one truck can stock a station for all three grades of fuel.

You can pick up mental_floss wherever brilliant/lots of magazines are sold. Or you could just subscribe.

* * * * *

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

No Squawking, Please: A Backyard Bird Library Is the Star of This Livestream

Bird Library, YouTube
Bird Library, YouTube

Many people discovered backyard birding when they were quarantined in their homes at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if you have a vibrant wildlife population in your area, the Bird Library webcam is worth checking out. As Atlas Obscura reports, the bird feeder at the focus of the livestream resembles a tiny library where feathered guests can misbehave.

Librarian Rebecca Flowers and woodworker Kevin Cwalina were inspired to build the Bird Library in 2015. Located in a backyard in Charlottesville, Virginia, it features a miniature reading chair, bookshelves, and a reception desk. The decorations are even updated to match the seasons; the feeder currently sports a banner that says "Summer Reading." The main differences setting it apart from a real library are the bird seed scattered on the floor and the avian visitors.

The Bird Library attracts a diverse collection of patrons. Sparrows, cardinals, and mourning doves have been recorded perching on the librarian's desk and checking out the reading materials. The occasional squirrel has also been known to stop by.

Live video of the feeder streams on the Bird Library's YouTube page and website 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can play the video below to check in on the current guests. If the backyard Bird Library has inspired you to find birds closer to home, here's some gear for beginner naturalists.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]