Hydrogen Fuel Cell – Everything You Need To Know
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Team CARS24
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Industry Insights
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Hydrogen Fuel Cell – Everything You Need To Know

Team CARS24
editor

EVs have zero emissions but they come with their share of issues. For instance, there’s range anxiety and lack of sufficient infrastructure. Meanwhile, India aims to reduce greenhouse gasses and CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030. An important role will be played in it with a shift to EVs to minimise dependency on fossil fuels. Even though EVs are gaining popularity, the hydrogen fuel cell engine technology remains relatively unexplored.

That said, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari recently unveiled the Hydrogen Fuel Cell engine equipped Toyota Mirai in India. Moreover, even Indian Oil is backing Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. It will even launch a Rs 300 crore demo project for hydrogen fuel vehicles.

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What is a Hydrogen Fuel Cell?

Hydrogen Fuel Cell extracts power from a electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The hydrogen molecules break into protons and electrons. The latter provide the power while the former react with atmosphere to emit heat and water. This means in terms of emissions, FCEVs are as clean as EVs. Moreover, while one needs to charge EVs, Hydrogen Fuel Cell car range is infinite as there’s no requirement of external charging.

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How does a hydrogen engine work?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars have an electric motor but what makes them different from EVs is that the hydrogen fuel vehicles manufacture the electricity themselves. Thus, they don’t need to be recharged through an external socket. The electricity is produced through reverse electrolysis. In this process, Hydrogen molecules react with Oxygen molecules present in the fuel cell. The Hydrogen is supplied by the tanks and the oxygen comes from the atmosphere. The only results of this reaction are electrical energy, heat and water.

The electricity generated in the fuel cell takes any of the two routes depending on the requirement. Either it is supplied to the electric motor to power the hydrogen fuel cell engine or it is stored in the battery. This battery, which is known as a Peak Power Battery, is much smaller and lighter than the battery pack of an EV.

The origins of hydrogen fuel

The origin of hydrogen fuel can be traced back to 1806. The first hydrogen fuel cell engine was made by a Swiss engineer named Francois Isaac de Rivaz. However, the car turned out to be a failure. The first electric vehicles were invented around 25 years later. By 1885, Daimler invented the modern gas engine. In 1886, Benz got its petrol-powered car patented.

By the advent of the 21st century, electric cars came back into the limelight. A major reason for this is the rising pollution and the depleting fossil fuel. However, it looks like hydrogen fuel cell engine is the future as it doesn’t face many challenges like electric cars do.

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What role will hydrogen fuel cell technology play in the future?

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can very well cause a paradigm shift in the way we perceive electric cars today. Being carbon-neutral, this technology not only benefits the environment but even mitigates problems like those of lack of infrastructure and range anxiety. That said, hydrogen fuel cell technology is still in the development stage and could take a while before its mass-scale adoption.

Where does hydrogen come from for fuel?

There are various sources of hydrogen supply. These are natural gas, nuclear energy, biomass, solar power and wind energy. This quality, alone, makes hydrogen a very attractive fuel option for electricity production. It can be thus used to power cars, houses, public transport, electrical appliances and more. Also, Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be stored, transported and even deliver energy produced by other sources. The most common methods of Hydrogen production today are natural gas reforming and electrolysis.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles

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Why is it so important for the world?

Hydrogen holds the potential to become the most important source of energy. This is due to many factors. First, unlike fossil fuels, it’s not available in limited quality. Moreover it is a clean source of energy and has zero emissions. Plus, it can be produced through various resources that have been mentioned earlier. It’s also not dependent on infrastructure such as EV charging stations. All in all, it seems to be the perfect solution to not just energy problems but even the issue of air pollution.

What are the risks with hydrogen fuel cell cars?

There are two major risks with hydrogen fuel cells – combustion and electric shock risks.

  1. As hydrogen has lower ignition energy than petrol, it is more combustible. This makes it more prone to explosions in a traffic accident or during mishandling of fuel. Fortunately, the tanks that store hydrogen in cars and transport vehicles are made of special materials that can store the fuel safely.
  2. The other big risk is with fuel cells have a very high voltage. Such high voltages are dangerous and hydrogen cars use heavy insulation to mitigate the risk. However, things can get too risky in case the high voltage is not isolated efficiency.

How much do hydrogen-powered cars cost – and why?

India doesn’t have even a single hydrogen fuel vehicle on sale in the market. However, what’s for sure is that this is an expensive technology that will make cars costlier than their petrol/diesel counterparts. Even if you look at the electric cars available in the market, the same are significantly costlier than their fossil-fuel-powered versions. When it comes to hydrogen fuel vehicles, they will be even costlier than their BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) counterparts.

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Benefits of Hydrogen Fuel Cell

  1. It is a Renewable Energy source
  2. It is available in abundance
  3. It can be produced through many sources
  4. It is a clean energy
  5. It is non-toxic
  6. Can Reduce Pollution levels by a large extent
  7. More efficient than other energy sources
  8. Even powers space ships
  9. Sustainable energy suppy

Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cell

  1. Hydrogen fuel cell cost is high
  2. Its storage is complicated
  3. Not the safest source of energy
  4. Difficult to be transported
  5. Dependent n fossil fuel for production
  6. Cost of harnessing doesn’t make it suitable for mass-scale adoption

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars in India

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are currently not available in India. In fact, they are not available in many parts of the world. However, there are some models that exist in some developed markets. Also, India is likely to witness the launch of at least two hydrogen fuel vehicles in near future – Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexa FCEV-

Toyota Mirai

Toyota Mirai can be heralded as India’s first hydrogen fuel cell car as it was recently unveiled in India by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. The Mirai will hold several test runs in our country to check the feasibility of hydrogen fuel cell engine in the Indian climate and usage patterns.

Hyundai Nexo

Nexo is Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle based on its dedicated platform for FCEVs. It’s sold alongside the Mirai in many global markets. In fact, its performance is at par with the Japanese alternative. The Next will likely launch in India in the first quarter of CY2023.

Conclusion

As you can see, hydrogen fuel cell is a technology that is still in very nascent stages. It is likely to take several years before it’s ready for application in mainstream cars. In fact, a safe guess is that it could be decades before it becomes affordable. However, on the positive side of things, we have many carmakers who have been committed to the development and evolution of this technology. Also, even the battery electric vehicles are constantly evolving and should serve us right before hydrogen fuel vehicles become available in the mass market.

FAQs

How does a Hydrogen Fuel Cell generate energy or power?

The electricity is produced in hydrogen fuel engine through reverse electrolysis. In this process, Hydrogen molecules react with Oxygen molecules present in the fuel cell. The Hydrogen is supplied by the tanks and the oxygen comes from the atmosphere.

How to refuel the hydrogen fuel cell cars?

Hydrogen gas can be refilled in hydrogen fuel cell cars at any gas station that sells the same. The process of refilling is similar to that of petrol and diesel. It doesn’t take more than 5 minutes to completely fill the tank.

What is the cost of green hydrogen production cost in India?

In India, the Green Hydrogen production cost is Rs 500 per kg.

What are hydrogen fuel cells capable of powering?

Hydrogen fuel cells are a good power source and can be used to power vehicles, houses, public transport, electrical appliances and even space ships.

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Industry Insights
Est. Reading Time:
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