SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Hydrogen cars may not be as green as they seem even though they’re zero-emission.

Toyota’s newest venture into clean technology is the “Mirai”, a hydrogen fuel cell car set to hit the market next year. The company let KPIX’s Allen Martin take one for a test drive.

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It can go 300 miles on one tank, that can be filled in minutes, avoiding long charging times. “It’s something that says we believe in zero emission vehicles. We believe in ecology. We believe in keeping the environment very clean,” said Toyota’s Nihar Patel.

And it “is” very clean: The only thing coming from the tailpipe is a drip of water. But the process of making most hydrogen today is very dirty.  “The California Air Resources Board CARB has stated there would be a 40% increase, overall, in carbon emissions,” said Charlie Drevna, President of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association.

That’s because most hydrogen is produced in refineries with natural gas, an energy intensive process that emits a large amount of greenhouse gases. “If the intent is to make sure you’re going to lower carbon emissions you have to make sure you do the full blown, what we call, the “well to wheels” calculation,” he said.

But Toyota’s Nihar Patel points to the latest federal research, that shows “well to wheels” data actually supports hydrogen technology. “Well being the wells the oil comes from, hydrogen powered vehicles have the most amount of efficiency,” he said. He points out that hydrogen can also be made from renewable energy such as solar, wind and methane gas.

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We asked oil industry spokesperson Charlie Drevna whether the oil industry is down on the technology because it doesn’t want the competition, especially in its own backyard at a gas station. His response: “Gasoline is the most reliable, efficient and abundant transportation source we have, it has proven year in and year out to get the job done.”

But Toyota and other fuel cell car manufacturers say they will continue to invest in not just the cars but the stations as well.

Another obstacle to the hydrogen car market: Refueling stations. There are only ten of them in the entire state. California invested $50-million dollars this year to build 50 more stations, with one main condition: 33% of the hydrogen will have to come from alternative renewable sources.

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