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Fuel cell vehicle

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A Fuel cell vehicle or Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) is a type of hydrogen vehicle which uses a fuel cell to produce electricity, powering its on-board electric motor. Fuel cells in vehicles create electricity to power an electric motor using hydrogen and oxygen from the air.

Description and purpose of fuel cells in vehiclesEdit

All fuel cells are made up of three parts: an electrolyte, an anode and a cathode.[1] In principle, a hydrogen fuel cell functions like a battery, producing electricity, which can run an electric motor. Instead of requiring recharging, however, the fuel cell can be refilled with hydrogen.[2] Different types of fuel cells include Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) Fuel Cells, Direct Methanol Fuel Cells, Phosphoric Acid Fuel Cells, Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells, Solid Oxide Fuel Cells, and Regenerative Fuel Cells.[3]

As of 2009, motor vehicles used most of the petroleum consumed in the U.S. and produced over 60% of the carbon monoxide emissions and about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.[4] In contrast, a vehicle fueled with pure hydrogen emits few pollutants, producing mainly water and heat, although the production of the hydrogen would create pollutants unless the hydrogen used in the fuel cell were produced using only renewable energy.[5]


The first modern fuel cell vehicle was a modified Allis-Chalmers farm tractor, fitted with a 15 kilowatt fuel cell, around 1959.[6] The Cold War Space Race drove further development of fuel cell technology. Project Gemini tested fuel cells to provide electrical power during manned space missions.[7][8] Fuel cell development continued with the Apollo Program. The electrical power systems in the Apollo capsules and lunar modules used alkali fuel cells.[7] In 1966, General Motors developed the first fuel cell road vehicle, the Chevrolet Electrovan.[9] It had a PEM fuel cell, a range of 120 miles and a top speed of 70 mph. There were only two seats, as the fuel cell stack and fuel tanks took up the rear portion of the van. Only one was built, as the project was deemed cost-prohibitive.[10] General Electric and others continued working on PEM fuel cells in the 1970s.[7]

File:1966 GM Electrovan - Fuel cell.jpg
File:Brno, Autotec, Mercedes Citaro na palivové články.jpg
File:Boeing Fuel Cell Demonstrator AB1.JPG
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Fuel cell stacks were still limited principally to space applications in the 1980s, including the Space Shuttle.[7] However, the closure of the Apollo Program sent many industry experts to private companies. By the 1990s, automobile manufacturers were interested in fuel cell applications, and demonstration vehicles were readied. In 2001, the first 700 Bar (10000 PSI) hydrogen tanks were demonstrated, reducing the size of the fuel tanks that could be used in vehicles.[12]

In 2003 US President George Bush proposed the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI), which was later implemented by legislation through the 2005 Energy Policy Act and the 2006 Advanced Energy Initiative. The HFI aimed at further developing hydrogen fuel cells and infrastructure technologies with the goal of producing commercial fuel cell vehicles. By 2008, the U.S. had contributed 1 billion dollars to this project.[13] In May 2009, the Obama Administration announced plans to "cut off funds" for the development of fuel cell vehicles, concluding that other vehicle technologies will lead to quicker reduction in emissions in a shorter time. However, the US Congress reversed the funding cuts in its appropriations bill for 2010.[14] The Department of Energy has proposed to decrease funding for Fuel Cell Vehicle development in its 2012 budget.[15]

Efficiency and costEdit

Advancements in fuel cell technology have reduced the size, weight and cost of fuel cell electric vehicles.[16] However, in 2013, Lux Research, Inc. issued a report that concluded that "Capital cost ... will limit adoption to a mere 5.9 GW" by 2030, providing "a nearly insurmountable barrier to adoption, except in niche applications". Lux's analysis concluded that by 2030, PEM stationary market will reach $1 billion, while the vehicle market, including forklifts, will reach a total of $2 billion.[17] Fuel cell electric vehicles have been produced with "a driving range of more than 250 miles between refueling".[18] They can be refueled in less than 5 minutes.[19] Deployed fuel cell buses have a 40% higher fuel economy than diesel buses.[16] EERE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program claims that, as of 2011, fuel cells achieved a 42 to 53% fuel cell electric vehicle efficiency at full power,[16] and a durability of over 75,000 miles with less than 10% voltage degradation, double that achieved in 2006.[18]

Professor Jeremy P. Meyers, in the Electrochemical Society journal Interface in 2008, wrote, "While fuel cells are efficient relative to combustion engines, they are not as efficient as batteries, due primarily to the inefficiency of the oxygen reduction reaction. ... [T]hey make the most sense for operation disconnected from the grid, or when fuel can be provided continuously. For applications that require frequent and relatively rapid start-ups ... where zero emissions are a requirement, as in enclosed spaces such as warehouses, and where hydrogen is considered an acceptable reactant, a [PEM fuel cell] is becoming an increasingly attractive choice [if exchanging batteries is inconvenient]".[20] In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimated that the cost of automobile fuel cells had fallen 80% since 2002 and that such fuel cells could potentially be manufactured for $51/kW, assuming high-volume manufacturing cost savings.[18] The practical cost of fuel cells for cars will remain high, however, until production volumes incorporate economies of scale and a well-developed supply chain. Until then, costs are roughly one order of magnitude higher than DOE targets.[20]

In a Well-to-Wheels analysis, the DOE estimated that fuel cell electric vehicles using hydrogen produced from natural gas would result in emissions of approximately 55% of the CO2 per mile of internal combustion engine vehicles and have approximately 25% less emissions than hybrid vehicles.[21] Richard Gilbert, co-author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight without Oil (2010),[22] comments that producing hydrogen gas ends up using some of the energy it creates. Then, energy is taken up by converting the hydrogen back into electricity within fuel cells. "'This means that only a quarter of the initially available energy reaches the electric motor' ... Such losses in conversion don't stack up well against, for instance, recharging an electric vehicle (EV) like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt from a wall socket".[23] Other analyses conclude, moreover, that numerous challenges remain before fuel cell cars can become competitive with other technologies. They cite the lack of an extensive hydrogen infrastructure in the U.S. and stating: "the large amount of energy required to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds (water, natural gas, biomass), package the light gas by compression or liquefaction, transfer the energy carrier to the user, plus the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity with fuel cells, leaves around 25% for practical use."[24][25]

Codes and standardsEdit

Fuel cell vehicle is a classification in FC Hydrogen codes and standards and fuel cell codes and standards[26] other main standards are Stationary fuel cell applications and Portable fuel cell applications.


Automobiles Edit

There are fuel cell vehicles for all modes of transport. The most prevalent fuel cell vehicles are forklifts and material handling vehicles.[27] Although there are currently no fuel cell cars available for commercial sale, over 20 FCEVs prototypes and demonstration cars have been released since 2009.[28] Automobiles such as the GM HydroGen4,[9] Honda FCX Clarity, Toyota FCHV-adv and Mercedes-Benz F-Cell are all pre-commercial examples of fuel cell electric vehicles. Fuel cell electric vehicles have driven more than 3 million miles, with more than 27,000 refuelings.[29]

Several of the car manufacturers have announced plans to introduce a production model of a fuel cell car in 2015. Toyota has stated that it plans to introduce such a vehicle at a price of around $50,000.[30] Mercedes Benz announced in 2011 that it plans to move up the production of the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell to 2014.[31]

Some notable releases since 2009 include:[28]

Buses Edit

There are also demonstration models of buses,[32] and in total there are over 100 fuel cell buses deployed around the world today. Most of these buses are produced by UTC Power, Toyota, Ballard, Hydrogenics, and Proton Motor. UTC buses have already accumulated over 970,000 km (600,000 mi) of driving.[33] Fuel cell buses have a 30-141% higher fuel economy than diesel buses and natural gas buses.[34] Fuel cell buses have been deployed around the world including in Whistler Canada, San Francisco USA, Hamburg Germany, Shanghai China, London England, São Paulo Brazil as well as several others.[35] The Fuel Cell Bus Club is a global cooperative effort in trial fuel cell buses. Notable Projects Include:

  • 12 Fuel cell buses are being deployed in the Oakland and San Francisco Bay area of California.[35]
  • Daimler AG, with thirty-six experimental buses powered by Ballard Power Systems fuel cells completed a successful three-year trial, in eleven cities, in January 2007.[36][37]
  • A fleet of Thor buses with UTC Power fuel cells was deployed in California, operated by SunLine Transit Agency.[38]

The first Brazilian hydrogen fuel cell bus prototype in Brazil was deployed in São Paulo. The bus was manufactured in Caxias do Sul and the hydrogen fuel will be produced in São Bernardo do Campo from water through electrolysis. The program, called "Ônibus Brasileiro a Hidrogênio" (Brazilian Hydrogen Autobus), includes three additional buses.[39][40]

Forklifts Edit

Fuel cell powered forklifts are one of the largest sectors of fuel cell applications in the industry.[27] Most fuel cells used for material handling purposes are powered by PEM fuel cells, although some direct methanol fuel forklifts are coming onto the market. Fuel cell fleets are currently being operated by a large number of companies, including Sysco Foods, FedEx Freight, GENCO (at Wegmans, Coca-Cola, Kimberly Clark, Sysco Foods, and Whole Foods), and H-E-B Grocers.[41]

Fuel cell powered forklifts provide significant benefits over both petroleum and battery powered forklifts as they produce no local emissions, can work for a full 8 hour shift on a single tank of hydrogen, can be refueled in 3 minutes and have a lifetime of 8–10 years. Fuel cell powered forklifts are often used in refrigerated warehouses as their performance is not degraded by lower temperatures. Many companies do not use petroleum powered forklifts, as these vehicles work indoors where emissions must be controlled and instead are turning towards electric forklifts. Fuel cell forklifts offer low greenhouse gas emissions, product lifetime, maintenance cost, refueling and labor cost benefits over battery operated fork lifts.[42]

Motorcycles and bicycles Edit

In 2005 the British firm Intelligent Energy produced the first ever working hydrogen run motorcycle called the ENV (Emission Neutral Vehicle). The motorcycle holds enough fuel to run for four hours, and to travel 160 km (100 mi) in an urban area, at a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph).[43] In 2004 Honda developed a fuel-cell motorcycle which utilized the Honda FC Stack.[44][45] There are other examples of bikes[46] and bicycles[47] with a hydrogen fuel cell engine. The Suzuki Burgman received "whole vehicle type" approval in the EU.[48] The Taiwanese company APFCT conducts a live street test with 80 fuel cell scooters[49] for Taiwans Bureau of Energy using the fueling system from Italy's Acta SpA[50] with a 2012 production target of 1,000 fuel cell scooters.

Airplanes Edit

Boeing researchers and industry partners throughout Europe conducted experimental flight tests in February 2008 of a manned airplane powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight batteries. The Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane, as it was called, used a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power an electric motor, which was coupled to a conventional propeller.[51] In 2003, the world's first propeller driven airplane to be powered entirely by a fuel cell was flown. The fuel cell was a unique FlatStackTM stack design which allowed the fuel cell to be integrated with the aerodynamic surfaces of the plane.[52]

There have been several fuel cell powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). A Horizen fuel cell UAV set the record distance flow for a small UAV in 2007.[53] The military is especially interested in this application because of the low noise, low thermal signature and ability to attain high altitude. In 2009 the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL’s) Ion Tiger utilized a hydrogen-powered fuel cell and flew for 23 hours and 17 minutes.[54] Boeing is completing tests on the Phantom Eye, a high-altitude, long endurance (HALE) to be used to conduce research and surveillance flying at 20,000 m (65,000 ft) for up to four days at a time.[55] Fuel cells are also being used to provide auxiliary power power aircraft, replacing fossil fuel generators that were previously used to start the engines and power on board electrical needs.[55] Fuel cells can help airplanes reduce CO2 and other pollutant emissions and noise.

Boats Edit

The world's first Fuel Cell Boat HYDRA used an AFC system with 6.5 kW net output.

For each liter of fuel consumed, the average outboard motor produces 140 times less[citation needed] the hydrocarbonss produced by the average modern car. Fuel cell engines have higher energy efficiencies than combustion engines, and therefore offer better range and significantly reduced emissions.[56] Iceland has committed to converting its vast fishing fleet to use fuel cells to provide auxiliary power by 2015 and, eventually, to provide primary power in its boats. Amsterdam recently introduced its first fuel cell powered boat that ferries people around the city's famous and beautiful canals.[57]

Submarines Edit

The only submersible applications of fuel cells are the Type 212 submarines of the German and Italian navies. "[58] Each Type 212 contains nine PEM fuel cells, spread throughout the ship, providing between 30 kW and 50 kW each of electrical power. The fuel cells provide distinct advantages over traditional diesel-electric power systems due to more efficient use of oxygen and quieter operation.[59] This allows the Type 212 to remain submerged longer and makes them more difficult to detect. Fuel cell powered submarines are also easier to design, manufacture, and maintain than nuclear-powered submarines.[60]

Hydrogen infrastructureEdit


In May 2008, Wired News reported that "experts say it will be 40 years or more before hydrogen has any meaningful impact on gasoline consumption or global warming, and we can't afford to wait that long. In the meantime, fuel cells are diverting resources from more immediate solutions."[61] The Los Angeles Times wrote, in February 2009, "Hydrogen fuel-cell technology won't work in cars. ... Any way you look at it, hydrogen is a lousy way to move cars."[62] The Economist magazine, in September 2008, quoted Robert Zubrin, the author of Energy Victory, as saying: "Hydrogen is 'just about the worst possible vehicle fuel'".[63] The magazine noted the withdrawal of California from earlier goals: "In March [2008] the California Air Resources Board, an agency of California's state government and a bellwether for state governments across America, changed its requirement for the number of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to be built and sold in California between 2012 and 2014. The revised mandate allows manufacturers to comply with the rules by building more battery-electric cars instead of fuel-cell vehicles."[63] The magazine also noted that most hydrogen is produced through steam reformation, which creates at least as much emission of carbon per mile as some of today's gasoline cars. On the other hand, if the hydrogen could be produced using renewable energy, "it would surely be easier simply to use this energy to charge the batteries of all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles."[63]

The Washington Post asked in November 2009, "But why would you want to store energy in the form of hydrogen and then use that hydrogen to produce electricity for a motor, when electrical energy is already waiting to be sucked out of sockets all over America and stored in auto batteries...?" The paper concluded that commercializing hydrogen cars is "stupendously difficult and probably pointless. That's why, for the foreseeable future, the hydrogen car will remain a tailpipe dream".[64] In July 2011, the Chairman and CEO of General Motors, Daniel Akerson, stated that while the cost of hydrogen fuel cell cars is decreasing: "The car is still too expensive and probably won't be practical until the 2020-plus period, I don't know."[20][65]

In connection with the Department of Energy's efforts to shift funding away from fuel cell vehicle research in 2009, Steven Chu, the US Secretary of Energy, asserted that hydrogen vehicles "will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years".[15][66][67] In 2012, however, Chu stated that he sees fuel cell cars as more economically feasible as natural gas prices have fallen and hydrogen reforming technologies have improved.[68][69]

See alsoEdit


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  2. "What Is a Fuel Cell?", The Online Fuel Cell Information Resource, Retrieved on: 2008-11-03.
  3. "Types of Fuel Cells", U.S. Department of Energy, Retrieved on: 2008-11-03.
  4. "Fuel Cells for Transportation", U.S. Department of Energy, updated September 18, 2009. Retrieved June 7, 2010
  5. "Fuel Cell Vehicles", Fuel Economy, Retrieved on: 2008-11-03.
  6. Wand, George. “Fuel Cell History, Part 2”. “Fuel Cell Today”, April 2006, accessed August 2, 2011
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 “PEM Fuel Cells”. “Smithsonian Institution”, 2004, accessed August 2, 2011
  8. Dumoulin, Jim. “Gemini-V Information”. NASA - Kennedy Space Center, August 25, 2000, accessed August 2, 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen infrastructure: status 2012. Royal Society of Chemistry (2012-07-15). Retrieved on 2013-01-08.
  10. “1966 GM Electrovan”. “Hydrogen Fuel Cars Now”, accessed August 2, 2011
  11. John W. Fairbanks (August 30, 2004). Engine Maturity, Efficiency, and Potential Improvements (PDF). Diesel Engine Emission Reduction Conference Coronado, California. US Department of Energy. Retrieved on December 2, 2010.
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  13. Nice, Karim, and Jonathan Strickland. "How Fuel Cells Work". How Stuff Works, accessed August 3, 2011
  14. Whoriskey, Peter. "The Hydrogen Car Gets Its Fuel Back", Washington Post, October 17, 2009
  15. 15.0 15.1 Chu, Steven. "Winning the Future with a Responsible Budget". U.S. Dept. of Energy, February 11, 2011
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Garbak, John. "VIII.0 Technology Validation Sub-Program Overview". DOE Fuel Cell Technologies Program, FY 2010 Annual Progress Report, accessed August 2, 2011
  17. Brian Warshay, Brian. "The Great Compression: the Future of the Hydrogen Economy", Lux Research, Inc. January 2013
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 "Accomplishments and Progress". Fuel Cell Technology Program, U.S. Dept. of Energy, June 24, 2011
  19. Wipke, Keith, Sam Sprik, Jennifer Kurtz and Todd Ramsden. "National FCEV Learning Demonstration". National Renewable Energy Laboratory, April 2011, accessed August 2, 2011
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Meyers, Jeremy P. "Getting Back Into Gear: Fuel Cell Development After the Hype". The Electrochemical Society Interface, Winter 2008, pp. 36–39, accessed August 7, 2011
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  48. Burgman_Fuel-Cell_Scooter
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  50. Taiwan’s ZES hydrogen scooter
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  59. "U212 / U214 Attack Submarines, Germany". Accessed August 2nd 2011.
  60. Hammerschmidt, Albert E. “Fuel Cell Propulsion of Submarines”. “Sea Siemens” Accessed August 3, 2011.
  61. Squatriglia, Chuck. "Hydrogen Cars Won't Make a Difference for 40 Years", Wired, May 12, 2008
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  63. 63.0 63.1 63.2 Wrigglesworth, Phil. "The car of the perpetual future"' September 4, 2008, retrieved on September 15, 2008
  64. Suplee, Curt. "Don't bet on a hydrogen car anytime soon". Washington Post, November 17, 2009
  65. Shepardson, David. "GM CEO: Fuel cell vehicles not yet practical". The Detroit News, July 30, 2011
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  67. Bullis, Kevin. "Q & A: Steven Chu", Technology Review, May 14, 2009
  68. Steven Chu turns out to be a supporter of Hydrogen Technologies - on 2.10 min
  69. Motavalli, Jim. "Cheap Natural Gas Prompts Energy Department to Soften Its Line on Fuel Cells", The New York Times, 29 May 2012


Carr. "The power and the glory: A special report on the future of energy", page 11. The Economist, 2008.

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