Mitchell Haeri hits the road with his hydrogen car

Dr. Mitch Haeri is testing a Mercedes Benz, which runs on a zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell. (Saddleback College)

 

Michael Dorame

Mitch Haeri has a passion for science and ways to conserve our environment, which he shows in the choice of cars he drives.

The current chair of the physics and astronomy department also works for a government-contracted company in aerospace research, is the advisor for the astronomy club, does engineering consulting, and gives talks at universities, all in addition to teaching students at Saddleback.

He started as a full-time instructor at Saddleback College back in 1995. With multiple degrees, including a doctoral degree obtained at UCLA, the physics and astronomy instructor has gained a lot of knowledge he wishes to share with students.

Haeri, an Orange County native, has had an interest in science since he was a child.

“I’ve always been interested in the sciences,” Haeri said. “I was motivated by my father.”

He used a little telescope as a kid to gaze into the sky, and in high school he took astronomy at Saddleback.

Haeri said, “Astronomy’s always been a hobby of mine, since I was a little kid.”

He said the astronomy course gives students an opportunity to survey the sky with professional telescopes, and the astronomy club gives students yet another opportunity to star gaze by driving out to the desert and getting away from the city lights in order to better view the sky.

Staring into the universe isn’t the only thing Haeri’s passionate about. In 2000, when the first Prius came out, he got one, and described himself as very environmentally conscious.

He doesn’t like foreign oil and gasoline, and wants less pollution.

Now there’s a new kind of vehicle taking center stage in the efforts to completely make gasoline a thing of the past.

It’s called a hydrogen fuel cell car, and very few people have been given the privilege of testing them, however a certain Saddleback College instructor drives one every day.

Haeri said he had been anticipating the hydrogen car for a while, and signed up right away when he heard of the pilot program.

And he’s now riding in style, without a drop of gasoline, and without a vapor of pollution.

It’s a Benz, as in Mercedes Benz. It runs off electricity, and is fueled by pure hydrogen.

“Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe,” Haeri said.

This is in contrast to fossil fuels, which will run out eventually.

But is it safe? Hydrogen is flammable, but gasoline is flammable as well.

Haeri said, “All the research has shown that hydrogen is actually safer than gasoline.”

He said it is a light element, and if you punctured your tank in a collision, it would immediately rise.

The car has less moving parts than a gasoline vehicle, one gear and no transmission, the exhaust is hot water, it gets 70 miles per gallon of equivalent energy and it has a 250 mile range.

He said he believes the main challenge to getting the new kind of vehicle into the hands of the masses is the fact that there are so few hydrogen filling stations.

With few people even knowing about this new concept in efficient transportation, Haeri is promoting it with talks at various universities and clubs.

He said the government should be speeding up the installing of infrastructure, meaning fueling stations, and said that once it’s in mass production it will be cheaper than gasoline, which is toxic, expensive and less abundant.

He said his favorite part about getting to drive it is helping the environment.

Whether he’s talking about the future of eco friendly vehicles or his love for the exploration of the universe, he said he loves to “see the light go off” when students learn from him.

 

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