Are Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles the Future?

Are Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles the Future?

What is Hydrogen FCV?

The power source of a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) creates a chemical reaction that turns compressed hydrogen (from a storage tank) and oxygen (from the air) into electricity, water and heat. The electricity is transferred directly to an electric motor via a power-control unit for maximum efficiency. Instead of emitting harmful exhaust fumes like gasoline and diesel motors, the only by product emitted by a hydrogen FCV is water.

Why now?

According to the global Environment Performance Index (EPI), in 2014 India’s rank in total emissions slipped 32 places to 155th from 2013. It is disheartening to hear that Delhi, the nation’s capital, is being tagged as one of the most heavily polluted cities in the world and the world’s worst for air pollution. Today, pollution of various types is a leading threat to the health of the people of Delhi.

Fuel-cell vehicles are equal to or better than electric vehicles. Fast refueling gives fuel cells the maximum available zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) credits. That makes it easy for a car manufacturer to meet the state's ZEV mandate with fewer cars. In response, manufacturers have formed several high-profile partnerships in India, including Ford, Daimler and Renault-Nissan, BMW and Toyota, and GM and Honda to develop hydrogen FCV vehicles.

Regarding filling stations, a recent infusion of $20 million of funding per year has expanded the California Fuel Cell Partnership's plan to install 100 state-wide refueling stations. The US Department of Energy's H2 USA organization wants to use California as a blueprint for the rest of the nation.

FCVs and the future of pollution reduction

There’s a lot to love about fuel-cell technology. Just like petrol and diesel vehicles, it only takes a few minutes to fill an FCV’s tank. So with hydrogen cars, you get the benefits of battery-powered vehicles without the drawback of waiting hours for a full charge. But can FCVs solve the car pollution problem?

It’s true that the only byproducts of FCVs are heat and water. There’s no need to worry about noxious exhaust fumes produced by petrol and diesel cars, which is great for reducing air pollution in cities. However, there’s more to being green than eliminating exhaust emissions. The processes used to produce hydrogen may still have an environmental impact.

More than 90 percent of hydrogen today is produced using a steam-reformation process that involves steam and methane gas. The process does produce CO2 emissions, but it’s 80 percent less than the process for making petrol.

The Technology: Turning potential into reality

Though a fuel cell vehicle may look like any other car, underneath it has a completely different structure. The fuel cell at the heart of the technology works by passing hydrogen and air through a fuel cell stack. A chemical reaction within the stack generates electrical power to drive the vehicle while emitting nothing but water vapor and heat.

Where does the power come from?

As shown in Figure 1, compressed hydrogen from the storage tank (A) is stripped of its electrons in the fuel cell stack (B), which creates electricity. A power control unit (C) orchestrates the flow of energy from the stack to the battery (D), which powers the electric motor that moves the car. The battery ensures full power during acceleration until the fuel cell reaches peak voltage.

Are Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles the Future?
Figure 1: The Elements of an FVC’s Power System

How it works

1. The hydrogen stored in the tank is supplied to the fuel cell stack.

2. The inflow of air is supplied to the fuel cell stack.

3. The reaction of air and hydrogen in the fuel cell stack generates electricity and water.

4. The electricity generated is supplied to the motor and battery.

5. What comes out after all this? Pure ‎H2O

Hydrogen fuel cells are a promising alternative to current automobile fuels. They essentially combine the energy density and the convenience of liquid fuels with the clean and efficient operation of electric vehicles. Although certain aspects of the technology such as efficient on-board storage still require some improvement, there are no reasons why hydrogen couldn’t become an equally convenient and attractive transportation fuel as diesel or gasoline are today. Further developing hydrogen infrastructure and storage, society will see the world, slowly, change from a petrol based society to a hydrogen based world. As more hydrogen refilling stations are installed and more efficient method of storage is developed, hydrogen will slowly take over petroleum's throne.

About the Author

Neeraj Kumar

Mohammed Ilyas Ahmed
Associate Network Engineer

Ilyas supports Avaya Equinox Meetings Online as NOC support Engineer on Cloud based service(SaaS) project with experience in VOIP domain & security. He is passionate about Automobile Technology and Design and loves travelling in his free time.


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