Hydrogen Fuel Cells for Cars

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Up and Coming Hydrogen Fuel Cells for Automotive Use

If you haven’t heard about hydrogen and fuel cells before, then now is your chance. These technologies are bursting on to the scene and can solve some of the biggest problems in energy ranging from commercial buildings to transportation. While most people are more familiar with solar, wind and battery power, keep your eye on these up-and-coming technologies that could add to our nation’s diverse energy mix.

Here Are A Few Things to Know About Hydrogen and Fuel Cells.

Electric cars can run on batteries, hydrogen, solar, or any source of electricity.  Hydroelectric cars contains fuel cells that produce electricity from hydrogen stored in high pressure gas tanks and oxygen.  The fuel cells simply combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity.  One can think of a hydrogen fuel cell as a refillable battery. The efficiency of a hydroelectric car is similar to a gasoline-powered car, but the hydroelectric car does not emit greenhouse gasses. The hydroelectric car does not run on any gasoline, but instead hydrogen and oxygen. A hydroelectric will likely have a small battery, but does not charge like a traditional electric car.

Hydrogen is the Moat Abundant Element on Earth.  

Hydrogen is an alternative fuel that has very high energy content by weight. It’s locked up in enormous quantities in water, hydrocarbons, and other organic matter. Hydrogen can be produced from diverse, domestic resources including fossil fuels, biomass, and water electrolysis with wind, solar, or grid electricity. The environmental impact and energy efficiency of hydrogen depends on how it is produced.  However, hydrogen is also the lightest element on earth. It is so light that it can escape our planet and float off into space.  If we liberate too much hydrogen, it could affect life on this planet.  We need to think this through before we become too dependent on hydrogen gas.

Fuel Cells Can be Used to Power Several Applications.

Hydrogen and fuel cells can power a broad range of applications. These range from powering buildings, cars, and trucks, to portable electronic devices and backup power systems. Because fuel cells can be grid-independent, they’re also an attractive option for critical load functions such as data centers, telecommunications towers, hospitals, emergency response systems, and even military applications for national defense.

Fuel Cells are a Clean Way to Produce Power.

Fuel cells are similar to batteries in that they produce electricity without combustion or emissions. Unlike batteries, fuel cells do not run down or need to recharge—as long as there’s a constant source of fuel and oxygen. It takes energy to extract hydrogen from chemicals and put in a storage tank. Compared to conventional gasoline vehicles, fuel cell vehicles can even reduce carbon dioxide by up to half if the hydrogen is produced by natural gas and by 90%, if the hydrogen is produced by renewable energy, such as wind and solar. Fuel cells do not produce pollutants — just water! 


Fuel Cell Cars are Similar to Traditional Gasoline Powered Cars in Range.

Like today’s gasoline vehicles, fuel cell electric cars can have a driving range of more than 300 miles on one tank of hydrogen fuel. They can refuel in just a few minutes and the fueling experience is similar to a gas station, but more akin to a propane tank refilling station. One carries the hydrogen in high pressure gas tanks, up to 5000 psi. Since the “engine” (i.e., fuel cell) has no moving parts, you’ll never need to change the oil. But because a fuel cell is more than twice as efficient as an internal combustion engine, a fuel cell car travels farther on that tank of hydrogen than a traditional car would on gasoline. This means you only need about half the amount of hydrogen, with double the fuel economy. Fuel cells provide the electricity for an electric car.

There are More Than 30 Commercial Hydrogen Stations in  California Today and Can be Readily Made and Stored.

Now, we know that there are more than 30 public retail hydrogen fueling stations are online in California, with plans to install 100. There are also several stations ready to open up in the Northeast. With careful planning, the focus has been to add hydrogen mostly at existing gasoline stations. These efforts are giving early fuel cell car adopters’ confidence that they can drive normally and have access to hydrogen wherever they go within these regions. Efforts are also underway in Hawaii, with other markets expected to develop as consumer demand increases.

How Hydrogen Fuel is Made?

Common hydrogen gas production methods include electrolysis and steam-methane reforming. In electrolysis, one runs electricity through water to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This method can use any form of electricity, regardless of the source, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, fossil fuels, biomass, nuclear, and many other energy sources.  One could generate hydrogen gas using a coal powered power plant, but that would defeat the purpose of clean energy.

How Robust are Fuel Cells?

Fuel cells are actually very delicate. Even a minute amount of leakage or contamination egress into the cell can render it ineffective.  This makes the cost of manufacture relatively high compared to a common gas tank.  Also, they must be treated rather delicately, so that they do not suffer a leak and subsequent intrusion.

Safety Considerations.

Hydrogen has been proven to be as safe as or even safer than other flammable fuels such as gasoline or natural gas. However, hydrogen gas has a few unique properties that require special consideration. For example, hydrogen can leak easily and ignite a relatively low temperature.  Recall the Hindenburg hydrogen dirigible explosion. One must be careful with hydrogen. 

In Conclusion the Future of Hydrogen Fuel Cars.   

Somebody must invest many billions dollars and take many years to implement a hydrogen infrastructure. The bi-fuel ability of the internal combustion engine allows the driver to easily switch to gasoline if no refueling stations are present. People still want a car that performs and that they can easily refuel.  Just as some companies have abandoned electric vehicles for fleet use due to the lack of charging stations, hydrogen vehicles will suffer the same fate without fueling stations.  However, it is a choice that will compete with batteries to power electric cars.  For now, batteries are winning the market battle.




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