Electric Vehicles

How Do Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Work Using Hydrogen?

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A fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is a new, clean vehicle type. It’s one of the Zero-Emission Transports in the 21st century. Powering electric cars with hydrogen is a visionary step worldwide. However, hydrogen has intelligent solutions that are within the limits of regular engines.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Working Process

The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced in March 2024 that it’s giving $750 million. The money is used to develop clean hydrogen fuel. This effort aims to make the US a global leader in the growing clean hydrogen industry. And this same capital will be used for 52 projects in 24 states. This blog will examine how FCEVs work, the essential parts that make them run, and some of their benefits.

What are the Basics of Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) Technology?

The fuel cell is the heart of every FCEV and is known for its electrochemical converter. It changes oxygen and hydrogen into electricity, water, and heat. A Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell is the most common car fuel cell. Fortune Business Insights said the market was worth USD 2.10 billion in 2021, and it is expected to grow at a 40.6% CAGR and reach USD 22.74 billion by the end of 2028. The report also discusses the influence of COVID-19 on selling prices and recovery. It also tells about the market in the Asia Pacific. So, now I am explaining all the technologies that consist of several main components:

  • Anode: At this place, hydrogen gas evolves and separates into a proton and an electron. A catalyst at the anode facilitates this reaction.
  • Cathode: Oxygen from the air combines with protons. Protons cross the electrolyte membrane, and electrons travel through an external circuit. They combine to make water.
  • The Electrolyte Membrane is where protons go through the membrane. Electrons take a turn in an external circuit there to make electricity.
  • Catalyst – Platinum is the standard substance in the anode and cathode. It makes reactions faster.
  • Gas Diffusion Layers (GDLs) distribute gases evenly over catalyst surfaces. They also remove water from the reaction.

What is the principal cause of energy conversion in hydrogen fuel cells?

The hydrogen fuel cell uses the energy in H2. It combines the H2 with the O2 in the air. This makes electricity through a chemical pathway. Here is an explanation of the entire energy transfer process, broken down step by step.

  1. Vehicles store hydrogen gas in high-pressure tanks for hydrogen fuel cell storage.
  2. The electrochemical reaction starts when hydrogen gas enters the anode. It goes through a catalyst, breaking it down to protons (H+) and electrons in a fuel cell. Splitting protons travel to the cathode through an electrolyte membrane—electrons in an external circuit cause an electrical current.
  3. Electricity generation: The moving electrons in the external circuit become electricity. This electricity powers the electric motor and other vehicle parts.
  4. Formation of Water- Protons, electrons, and oxygen from the air react at the cathode. They only form water and discharge it as a byproduct. This is a high-efficiency process. It produces no greenhouse gases when making electricity. It makes the same non-toxic water vapour used in hydrogen fuel cells. These cells will also power vehicles.

How do FCEVs generate power?

It starts with hydrogen stored in vehicle high-pressure tanks. The car operates by supplying hydrogen to the fuel cell’s anode. This form uses a platinum (or other) catalyst. It helps the hydrogen molecules split into protons and electrons. But now, the protons pass through a membrane to reach the cathode. A separate circuit leads electrons. This circuit creates a current that powers a motor for your car.

The protons, electrons, and air combine at the cathode to produce water and heat, which are only byproducts. This process repeats continuously. As long as hydrogen and oxygen are provided, it continues. This keeps a constant stream of electricity, which keeps the car running.

How Expensive Are Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles?

Today, fuel cell vehicles are more expensive than battery electric vehicles. They are also more expensive than traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. The rise in the global fuel cell vehicle market shows that the market was worth USD 1.45 billion in 2022. It is projected to increase by 52.5% from 2023 to 2030 and achieve USD 36.89 billion by the end of this period. This data is from Grand View Research. The report says the expansion is partly due to more environmental concerns. It is also due to the broader use of FCEVs. Several factors contribute to the costly nature.

  • The production costs: The hydrogen fuel cell technology is still young. It needs costly materials like platinum. Platinum is used as the catalyst in fuel cells. Getting platinum requires a production-oriented process. It is now expensive. The platinum stems have gotten much cheaper. But they still add to unit costs.
  • Costs: Hydrogen is more expensive as fuel compared to electricity. By the way, hydrogen could cost up to $36 per kilogram in California. Fueling a hydrogen car costs 14 times more than driving a Tesla EV car. The excess is because making, storing, and moving hydrogen is complex.
  • Infrastructure: Creating a full-scale hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is expensive. Building and maintaining these stations is costly, which are few and far between now.
  • Price: HFCVs must catch up on their high price, partly due to their modest production volumes. Yet, the cost should come down over time as production increases.

Advantages Of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

1. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) have zero emissions. They don’t emit harmful pollutants from tailpipes. The hydrogen-oxygen reaction in the fuel cell only emits water vapour. So, these vehicles are emission-free.

2. Battery-based electric vehicles (EVs) need hourly recharging for rapid refuelling. Hydrogen cars refuel in minutes. They are like petrol or diesel vehicles.

3. HFCVs have the best driving range. They go farther than BEVs or PHEVs. This is because hydrogen has more energy by mass than lithium-ion batteries. The Mercedes-Benz would have a 380-mile range. This would make it one of the few zero-emission vehicles. It could travel as far on a full fuel tank as many EVs can on a full charge.

4. HFCVs are quiet. This is another thing that can be true for EVs. This is because the electric motors in HFCVs run quietly and without vibrations.

5. Efficiency: Hydrogen fuel cells are much more efficient than gasoline engines. Gasoline engines could be more efficient. They achieve about 20-30 per cent efficiency at best. Fuel cells are different. They can capture about 60 per cent of the fuel’s energy and convert it into electricity. Still, it is essential to note that HFCVs’ efficiency depends on how well hydrogen is made and sent.

6. HFCVs could slash emissions. They’d use green hydrogen (from renewables). But, if hydrogen is from fossil fuels, the environmental gains will shrink.

7. Hydrogen fuel cells are versatile. They can be used in many cars and vehicles, like buses, trucks, and ships. This also makes them a convenient option that matches differing transportation requirements.

8. Fuel cells last longer than most batteries. Batteries degrade due to use. Fuel cells can work well for a long time if adequately managed.

What are the disadvantages of having a hydrogen car?

1. Expensive infrastructure: Significant capital is needed to produce, move, store, and supply hydrogen. There is only a little hydrogen refueling infrastructure. It is hard to meet one on the road or off it.

2. Expensive Vehicles: Fuel cell cars cost more than electric ones. Making hydrogen fuel cells and the cars that use them is very expensive. This leads to higher prices for consumers.

3. Hydrogen Production Bottleneck: The main problem in hydrogen production is making it. Most of the time, natural gas extraction harms the Earth. The other option is green hydrogen. Renewable energy sources make it. But it’s far from cheap and has yet to be expected.

4. Safety concerns: Hydrogen ignites easily and demands cautious handling and secure storage. Today’s hydrogen tanks are designed to be as safe as can be. But, a fear of compressed gas storage is still a problem.

5. Energy Loss: Extracting, moving, and converting hydrogen to electricity is less efficient, but using direct electricity in EVs is more efficient. This leads to a greater total energy use from HFCVs.

What are the Real Ground Big Problems with Hydrogen Cars?

1. Infrastructure Challenges

The missing cause of the hydrogen cars is, of course, a refueling infrastructure. In North America, hydrogen refueling stations are rare. This is true even in places like California. California has the best fill-up infrastructure in the country. This is due to the high cost of infrastructure and the difficulty of keeping up these stations. This makes things even more complex.

2. Production and Storage

The other key challenge is producing hydrogen in a clean and green way. Natural gas emits CO2 when making hydrogen, with most emissions coming from this source. The production of green electrolytic hydrogen began. It was costly and not scalable. Also, storing and moving hydrogen has been complex and expensive. It packs minimal energy by volume, sparking intense combustion reactions.

3. Cost

This makes fuel-cell vehicles expensive. So, the public needs the cost to come down to adopt them in large numbers. Building hydrogen fuel cars is more costly than building EVs. Also, currently, hydrogen fuel costs more than electricity. The fuel cell vehicle costs more. This makes it unattractive to someone seeking a cheaper option. Gasoline vehicles are that option.

4. Energy Efficiency

Pure battery electric vehicles are more energy-efficient than hydrogen cars. Making hydrogen from electricity could be more efficient. Turning it back into electricity in a fuel cell wastes much energy. As a result, HFCVs are less efficient than EVs. They need more energy to travel the same distance.

Will Hydrogen Cars Overtake Battery based Electric Cars?

Electric vehicles are miles ahead in the race with hydrogen cars today. The main reason is the lower cost of EVs. They cost less than traditional IC-powered vehicles. Also, there is a vast infrastructure for electricity. Battery technology has undergone a significant transformation over the past decade.

2. Infrastructure and Cost

The problem is that the infrastructure for refueling hydrogen cars needs to be included. Also, making and storing hydrogen has been too expensive. Hydrogen refueling needs to be broader. This could be an impediment, given its cost.

3. Technological Advancements

Hydrogen fuel cell technology has improved day by day. But it still lags behind batteries in efficiency and cost. Hydrogen production, storage, and conversion all need energy losses. This makes hydrogen less efficient than electricity in the EV equation.

4. Future Prospects

Hydrogen cars have specific uses, such as long-haul trucking and heavy-duty vehicles. In these uses, the fast fuel-up times and long hydrogen driving range can provide real perks. Also, more research and development in green hydrogen production is happening in fuel cell technology. This may make it more possible to use hydrogen.

Do Hydrogen Cars Need Oil?

Oil isn’t required to operate hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs). According to the automaker, hydrogen vehicles have electric motors. Instead of using internal combustion engines (ICEs), people use these. ICEs need oil to lubricate and cool their drivetrains. So, these vehicles do not have any pistons or valves that require oil. Hydrogen vehicle maintenance occurs early on, like battery electric vehicles. Other forms are fuel cell stacks, electric motors, and hydrogen storage tech.

Can You Drink Water from Hydrogen Cars?

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles emit only water vapor. It is a byproduct of making hydrogen into electricity. This happens in a simple reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. This water is pure, drinkable, and relatively safe. But, in practice, it could be better. Water can contain bits of dirt, dust, and other road debris. Someone picks these up under the car. They mix with pollutants from the exhaust system. Some tests say it’s drinkable, but you shouldn’t drink this exhaust.

Do You Put Water in A Hydrogen Car?

Of course not; you don’t put water in a hydrogen car. Hydrogen fuel cell cars run on hydrogen gas stored in high-pressure tanks. The hydrogen then runs through a fuel cell. It reacts with oxygen to make electricity, water, and heat. The body excreted water as a secondary element.

Do Hydrogen Cars Make Noise?

Hydrogen cars are generally quiet. The noise level depends on the type of hydrogen engine used. Today, most hydrogen cars are fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). They use hydrogen to make electricity onboard, much like an electric car. They generate road noise on par with battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). They make almost no noise pollution. We’ve also seen many modified hydrogen internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Such cars emit sounds like traditional gasoline engines. This feature appeals to enthusiasts who enjoy the sound of driving.

Is Hydrogen Highly Explosive?

Hydrogen gas ignites easily and erupts into fierce, blazing infernos. It has a high flash point, burning at concentrations between 4% and 75% in the air. These substances must take strict storage, transport, and vehicle use precautions. To counter these risks, modern hydrogen cars have advanced safety mechanisms. They include high-strength tanks and waterproof facilities. These are for the risk of short-circuit and leak sensors. But hydrogen is explosive. This still requires careful management despite these precautions.

How Safe Are Hydrogen Cars?

Hydrogen cars have lots of safety gear. This is to deal with the gas’s flammability and its need for high pressure. The tanks are high-strength carbon fiber. They have advanced in-tank leak-detection systems and an automatic shut-off valve. If the explosive Hydrogen escapes or leaks into the air, it spreads quickly into the vast spaces in a room. So there is no risk of fire or explosion. Engineers test the tanks to ensure they survive impacts and high temperatures. However, it may happen at the same time. Hydrogen is dangerous. The law strictly governs the production of new cars utilizing this technology. People consider these vehicles safe for everyday road use.

Is Hydrogen Fuel Cheaper Than Gasoline?

Hydrogen fuel is also more expensive than gasoline at present. This cost difference arises mainly from the high price of hydrogen production. Hydrogen originates from electrolysis, which produces green hydrogen. Currently, it can be as high as $16 per kilogram in the United States or more expensive per mile than gasoline. But, once tech improves, and production scales up, hydrogen will become cheaper. Yes, subsidies and spending on hydrogen infrastructure should also help. They will increase the competitiveness of other fuels.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars vs. Electric Cars

FeatureHydrogen Fuel Cell CarsElectric Cars
Energy SourceHydrogen gasElectricity
Power GenerationFuel cells convert hydrogen into electricityBatteries store and discharge electricity
Refueling/Recharging Time3-5 minutes30 minutes to several hours
Range300-400 miles150-300 miles
Efficiency40-60%85-90%
InfrastructureLimited hydrogen refueling stationsExtensive and growing network of charging stations
EmissionsWater vaporNone (if using renewable energy)
CostHigher due to fuel cell technology and hydrogen productionLower, but battery costs can be significant
MaintenanceComplex systems, higher maintenance costsSimpler systems, lower maintenance costs
AvailabilityLimited models availableDifferent range of models available
Government IncentivesVaries by region, often includes EV tax creditFederal EV tax credit, state incentives, and more

What are the main components of a fuel cell electric vehicle?

The main components include the fuel cell stack, hydrogen fuel tank, electric traction motor, and auxiliary battery.

How long does it take to refuel a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle?

Refueling a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle takes about 3 to 5 minutes. This is like refueling a gasoline vehicle. This quick refueling time is a significant advantage of FCEVs over BEVs. They can take much longer to recharge.

Are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles safe?

Yes, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have many safety measures. They ensure safe hydrogen storage and handling.

Hello everyone, my name is Debash Biswas. I am a support engineer in an automobile manufacturing company, which makes me more helpful in writing content because I also have good knowledge about car manufacturing companies. I have also been working as a content writer since 2021. My hobbies are riding a car, reading books, reading newspapers, etc. If you liked my article, please share it with your friends. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks to all readers.

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