Hydrogen Fuel Cell – Everything You Need to Know

Rahul Jha
Rahul Jha

Updated on: 22nd September, 2023 IST

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The world of automotive technology is exciting, exhilarating, and constantly evolving. And hydrogen fuel cell technology is turning out to be one of the most promising innovations of recent times. Hydrogen fuel cells are a clean, efficient, and sustainable way to power our vehicles, and they have the potential to revolutionize the way the world thinks about transportation. But what exactly is a hydrogen fuel cell, and how does it work? In this blog, we're going to dive into the world of hydrogen fuel cells and explore everything you need to know.

At the theoretical level, a hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen gases into the water, generating electricity in the process. Unlike a traditional combustion engine, which burns fuel to create energy, a hydrogen fuel cell uses a chemical reaction to produce electricity, emitting only water vapour and heat as byproducts. Fascinating, right?

This simple science also makes it a highly efficient and low-emission technology that can be used to power a wide range of vehicles, from cars and buses to trains and even aeroplanes.

Hydrogen fuel cells offer a beautiful spectrum of benefits over traditional fossil fuels. For one, they emit zero greenhouse gases and other toxic pollutants, making them a highly sustainable and environmentally friendly option. Additionally, they are highly efficient. However, there are also a number of challenges that we need to overcome in order for hydrogen fuel cells to become a readily available, mainstream technology, such as the need for a reliable hydrogen infrastructure and the higher cost of producing hydrogen fuel.

Despite these challenges and roadblocks, hydrogen fuel cell technology has the potential to play a major role in the future of transportation, particularly in countries like India where air pollution is a matter of growing national concern. So if you want to learn more about this exciting and innovative technology, get comfortable and keep reading for a comprehensive guide to hydrogen fuel cells.

What is a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle?

A fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is a type of vehicle that uses hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity and power an electric motor. In simpler words, it is an EV that uses hydrogen as its fuel source, rather than a battery. When hydrogen is combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, it produces electricity, heat, and water vapours, which are then used to power the vehicle's electric motor. This process is highly efficient and produces zero emissions, making FCEVs one of the cleanest and most sustainable forms of transportation available.

FCEVs offer a number of advantages over traditional fossil fuel vehicles, including zero emissions, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, and quieter, smoother operation. Additionally, FCEVs have a longer driving range than most battery powered electric vehicles, and can be refuelled faster than other vehicles.

However, there are still some challenges that we need to overcome in order for FCEVs to become more widely adopted. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. Currently, there are only a handful of hydrogen refuelling stations in India, which limits the range and usability of FCEVs. Additionally, the cost of producing and storing hydrogen is higher than that of traditional fuels, although this should improve as the technology becomes more widespread.

Despite these challenges, FCEVs are evenly poised to become a major player in reducing air pollution and combating climate change in India and around the world. As the technology continues to improve and more refuelling infrastructure is developed, we can expect to see more and more FCEVs gracing our roads in the coming years.

Read More: Electrics Cars vs PHEVs vs Hybrid Cars: A Quick Guide

How Do Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Work Using Hydrogen?

FCEVs use electrolysis to convert hydrogen into electricity, which is then used to power the vehicle's electric motor. Some of the basic components of an FCEV include a fuel cell stack, a hydrogen fuel tank, and an electric motor. The fuel cell stack is made up of multiple fuel cells, which contain an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte membrane.

To generate electricity, hydrogen is fed into the anode of the fuel cell stack, while oxygen from the air is fed into the cathode. The two gases react in the presence of the electrolyte membrane, producing electricity, water, and heat. The electricity is then sent to the electric motor, which powers the vehicle, while water and heat are released as byproducts.

Hydrogen is a highly abundant element and can be extracted from a variety of sources, including water and biomass, making it a highly sustainable, renewable, and future forward fuel source.

Key Components of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Car

1. Battery (Auxiliary)

An FCEV includes a small auxiliary battery, which powers the vehicle's accessories and lighting when the car is turned on but the fuel cell stack is not yet producing enough electricity to meet the demand. This battery is typically a 12-volt lead-acid battery, similar to the one found in traditional combustion engine vehicles.

2. Battery Pack

The battery pack is used to store excess energy produced by the fuel cell stack, and is made up of multiple individual battery cells, which are interconnected to create a high-capacity storage system. The battery pack also provides additional power to the electric motor during times of high demand.

3. DC/DC Converter

The DC/DC converter is responsible for converting the high-voltage DC electricity produced by the fuel cell stack into the lower-voltage DC electricity needed to power the vehicle's accessories and recharge the auxiliary battery. This converter ensures that the vehicle's electrical systems operate at the correct voltage and current levels.

4. Electric Traction Motor

The electric traction motor is the primary source of propulsion in an FCEV. It receives electricity from both the fuel cell stack and the high-voltage battery pack, and uses this energy to turn the wheels. The motor is typically located in close proximity to the wheels, and is connected to them via drivetrain components.

5. Fuel Cell Stack

This is the heart of an FCEV, and is made up of multiple individual fuel cells, containing an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte membrane. When hydrogen and oxygen react in the presence of the electrolyte membrane, they produce electricity, water, and heat. The fuel cell stack is a highly efficient and environmentally-friendly way to generate electricity, making FCEVs one of the cleanest and most sustainable forms of transportation available.

6. Fuel Filler

This is the port through which hydrogen fuel is pumped into the FCEV's fuel tank, and is located on the rear panel of the vehicle. It is designed to accommodate a specialised nozzle that connects to the hydrogen filling station. FCEV fuel fillers are designed to prevent fuel leaks and to ensure the safe and efficient transfer of hydrogen fuel.

7. Fuel Tank (Hydrogen)

The fuel tank in an FCEV is a high-pressure container that stores hydrogen gas. The tank is made of lightweight and high-strength materials, such as carbon fibre, and is designed to withstand the high pressures required to store hydrogen gas at room temperature.

8. Power Electronics Controller (FCEV)

The power electronics controller is responsible for managing the flow of electricity between the fuel cell stack, the battery pack, and the electric motor. It helps the vehicle's electrical systems operate efficiently and safely, and prevents damage to any of the FCEV's components. It also monitors the vehicle's battery pack and fuel cell stack, and adjusts the power output as needed to maximise efficiency and performance.

9. Thermal System (Cooling) (FCEV)

The thermal system is responsible for managing the exorbitant amounts of heat generated by the fuel cell stack and the electric motor. It is designed to regulate the temperature of the fuel cell stack and to ensure that it operates at optimal temperatures. A thermal system typically includes radiators, pumps, and other components that dissipate heat and maintain the FCEV's operating temperature range.

10. Transmission (Electric)

The transmission is an electrically-operated system that transfers power from the electric motor to the wheels. It is designed to allow the motor to operate at efficient speeds and to provide the optimal torque and power to the wheels. FCEV transmissions are typically single-speed or multi-speed systems, depending on the specific vehicle design and performance requirements. The electric transmission ensures that the vehicle can accelerate, decelerate, and operate at a range of speeds, just like a traditional fuel-powered vehicle.

The Future of Hydrogen Cars

As the world continues to shift towards greener and more sustainable technologies, the future of hydrogen cars looks bright. With the global push towards electric mobility, hydrogen cars have the potential to become a viable, eco-friendly, and economical option in the years to come. Hydrogen fuel cell technology offers numerous advantages over traditional engines, including zero-emissions, longer driving ranges, and quicker refuelling times.

In recent years, major automakers such as Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda have introduced hydrogen fuel cell vehicles into the market, and other players are expected to follow suit. Furthermore, the increasing number of hydrogen fuel stations across the world is going to be a significant driver in the growth of the hydrogen car market. Overall, the adoption of hydrogen cars is a definitive step towards a cleaner, greener, more sustainable future.

Hydrogen Cars Currently Available

1. Hyundai Nexo

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are a relatively new technology, and currently, only a few models are available in India. One such car that is expected to be launched in India is the Hyundai Nexo, which is a midsize SUV that offers impressive performance and driving range. The Nexo has a maximum power output of 120 kW and can travel up to 611 km on a single tank of hydrogen. The car also comes equipped with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.25-inch touchscreen display.

Hyundai Nexo
Hyundai Nexo
Ex-showroom Price (Delhi)₹65 Lakhs
Expected Launch DateMarch 2023

Key Specifications

Maximum Power Output120 kW
Driving RangeUp to 611 km on a single tank of Hydrogen
Top Speed179 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h)9.2 seconds
Fuel Cell Stack Efficiency60%

Key Safety Features

  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • Forward Collision Warning
  • Automatic Emergency Braking

Read More: Upcoming Hyundai Cars in India 2023 – Expected Price with Features & Specs

2. Toyota Mirai

Another hydrogen fuel cell car that is expected to be launched in India is the Toyota Mirai. Unveiled at the prestigious Auto Expo 2023, this car boasts an impressive range of up to 650 km on a single tank of hydrogen and a maximum power output of 153 hp. The Mirai is also expected to be equipped with advanced safety features such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, making it a safe and reliable option for Indian drivers.

Toyota Mirai
Toyota Mirai
Ex-showroom Price (Delhi)₹60 Lakhs
Expected Launch DateJanuary 2030

Key Specifications

Maximum Power Output153 hp
Driving RangeUp to 650 km on a single tank of hydrogen
Top speed175 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h)9.6 seconds
Fuel Cell Stack Efficiency65%

Key Safety Features

  • Blind-Spot Monitor
  • Pre-Collision System
  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Lane Departure Warning

Overall, the expected lineup of hydrogen fuel cell cars in India is relatively small, but these vehicles promise to offer impressive performance and driving range. As the technology continues to evolve and become more widely available, we can expect to see more and more hydrogen cars on the Indian roads!

Hydrogen Fueling Stations

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are a strong alternative to conventional fuel-powered cars and they require refuelling stations that dispense hydrogen gas. Fortunately, India is gradually expanding its hydrogen refuelling infrastructure to support the influx of hydrogen vehicles on its roads in the years to come.

Currently, there are two major hydrogen fuelling stations in India, one each at Indian Oil R&D Centre, Faridabad and National Institute of Solar Energy, Gurugram.

In addition to these, cities like Bengaluru and Pune are also expected to get their own hydrogen refuelling stations. The government has also proposed setting up hydrogen corridors on the Delhi-Mumbai and Chennai-Bengaluru highways to promote the use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

While India's hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is still in its infantile stages, it is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years as more automakers plan to introduce hydrogen fuel cell vehicles into the Indian market.

Are Hydrogen Cars Safe?

Cars equipped with hydrogen fuel cell technology are considered just as safe as traditional fuel engines, if not safer. Hydrogen cars are designed with top-of-the-line engineering and numerous safety features to avoid, reduce, and prevent accidents and malfunctions.

One of the most significant concerns is the flammability of hydrogen gas. However, the fuel tanks in hydrogen cars are made of highly durable materials which can withstand high pressure and extreme conditions. These tanks are thoroughly tested to ensure their durability and safety.

Moreover, hydrogen cars are equipped with multiple safety mechanisms to detect any leaks from the fuel tank. If a leak is detected, the car's fuel supply is automatically shut off to prevent any accidents. Additionally, hydrogen cars would have to meet the same safety standards as conventional fuel-powered vehicles.

Pros and Cons of Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are among some of the most exciting developments in the automotive industry. However, like any technology, there are both advantages and disadvantages to using these vehicles. Here are some of the most significant pros and cons of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles:

Pros:

  • Zero Emissions
  • High Efficiency
  • Quick Refuelling
  • Reduced Dependence on Fossil Fuels
  • Long Driving Range

Cons:

  • Limited Infrastructure
  • Higher Cost
  • Safety Concerns
  • Durability and Maintenance
  • Hydrogen Production

Performance

Hydrogen fuel cell cars boast an impressive performance and are much swifter and more potent than electric cars. They offer instantaneous torque and acceleration that can rival even the best fuel-powered vehicles. The performance of hydrogen cars is not just confined to speed and acceleration, as these vehicles have an extended driving range, which makes them ideal for long-distance travel.

Additionally, the process of refuelling is swift and straightforward, taking only a few minutes to refill the tank with hydrogen. Another aspect that contributes to the performance of hydrogen cars is their lightweight design. Unlike electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles do not require heavy battery packs. This makes them lighter, more agile, and enhances their overall driving experience.

Overall, the performance of hydrogen cars is impressive and can match or even exceed that of gasoline-powered vehicles. They offer high-speed acceleration, long driving range, and quick refuelling times, making them a practical and exciting option for the future of the automotive industry.

Cost of Hydrogen Fuel

One of the main reasons why the cost of hydrogen fuel is higher than traditional fuels is because of the current limited infrastructure for hydrogen refuelling stations in India. While there are a few hydrogen refuelling stations in certain cities, the lack of infrastructure means that transporting and storing hydrogen fuel can be expensive. Additionally, the production of hydrogen fuel through electrolysis or steam methane reforming also requires significant energy and can be costly.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are an innovative alternative to traditional fuel based vehicles, but one question that often arises is: what is the cost of hydrogen fuel for these cars? In India, the current cost of hydrogen fuel ranges from ₹300 to ₹400 per kg, which is significantly higher than the cost of petrol or diesel per litre. However, it is important to note that the cost of hydrogen fuel is expected to decrease as hydrogen fuelled vehicles become more mainstream, more fuel cell vehicles are produced, and more hydrogen filling stations are established.

Servicing a Hydrogen Car

Maintaining a hydrogen fuel cell car requires a slightly different approach compared to a conventional petrol or diesel-powered car. Fortunately, the process of servicing a hydrogen car is relatively simple, and the maintenance requirements are similar to those of electric cars.

The first step in servicing a hydrogen car is to ensure that the hydrogen fuel system is inspected and maintained regularly. The hydrogen fuel cell stack and high-pressure storage tank should be checked for any signs of wear or damage. Additionally, the fuel system should be diagnosed for leaks and repaired immediately.

The electric drive system, including the battery, motor, and other electronic components also require regular checks and maintenance. This includes battery health checks and software updates to ensure that the vehicle is operating efficiently.

Another important aspect of servicing a hydrogen car is to ensure that the cooling system is functioning correctly. The cooling system is responsible for keeping the fuel cell stack and associated components at the correct temperature, and any failure in the cooling system can cause damage to the vehicle.

Conclusion

In conclusion, hydrogen fuel cell technology is one of the most rapidly evolving, promising, and exciting developments in the automotive industry. While it is still in the early stages, hydrogen fuel cell cars have a lot of potential and offer a range of advantages over traditional fuel based and electric vehicles. One of the most revered benefits of hydrogen fuel cell cars is their eco-friendliness. With the world focusing on sustainable living, hydrogen fuel cell cars could be a true game-changer.

Frequently Asked Questions

 

1. Are hydrogen fuel cell cars available in India?

Yes, hydrogen fuel cell cars are available in India. Currently, there is one model available in the Indian market: the Toyota Mirai.

2. Do hydrogen fuel cell cars have a future?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars offer high-speed acceleration, longer driving range, quick refuelling times, and zero emissions. With the increasing concern for the environment, the demand for cleaner and sustainable transport options is expected to rise, making hydrogen fuel cell cars a viable option for the future.

3. Are hydrogen fuel cell cars better than electric cars?

Both hydrogen fuel cell cars and electric cars have their advantages and disadvantages. Hydrogen fuel cell cars have a longer driving range and quicker refuelling times, but they require a dedicated hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. Electric cars, on the other hand, are more widely available, have lower operating costs, and are easier to service.

4. Will hydrogen cars overtake electric cars?

Both technologies have their strengths and limitations. However, with the development of a more extensive hydrogen infrastructure and the increasing demand for cleaner and sustainable transport options, hydrogen cars may become a more viable option in the automotive industry in the future.

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