A fuel cell that runs on gasoline?

It seems a bit counterintuitive, but electric cars powered by gasoline-fed fuel cells could be an important step in the direction of clean energy.

Gunter Luepke says a solid-oxide fuel cell car could double the gas mileage of today's internal-combustion engines.

"The efficiency of a fuel cell is very high; it's on the order of 60 percent," he explained. "The internal combustion engine is less than 30 percent. If you use a fuel cell, you would gain a factor of two or more in efficiency."

The solid-oxide fuel cells can take a variety of fuels, including gaseous hydrogen and just about any hydrocarbon, too. The well-established global infrastructure to dispense gasoline gives the solid-oxide fuel cell technology an immediate advantage for automotive use, too.

"The transition to very clean cars is going to be a very slow process," Erik Spahr said. "If we can take advantage of the fuel infrastructure we have now, and do it more efficiently and slowly transition to cleaner fuels, that's probably going to be a workable and realistic approach."