Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are zero emission and run on compressed hydrogen fed into a fuel cell "stack" that produces electricity to power the vehicle. A fuel cell can be used in combination with an electric motor to drive a vehicle – quietly, powerfully and cleanly.
How It Works
An individual fuel cell consists of two electrodes, one positively charged (cathode) and one negatively charged (anode), with a substance that conducts electricity (electrolyte) sandwiched between them. Oxygen from the air passes over the cathode and hydrogen over the anode, generating electricity and water. The hydrogen fuel for a fuel cell electric vehicle can be supplied in several ways. Most vehicles carry a tank of pure hydrogen. Individual fuel cells must be combined into groups called fuel cell stacks in order to achieve the necessary power required for motor vehicle applications.
Most automakers have placed fuel cell vehicles with customers, and many plan to introduce fuel cell vehicles to the early commercial market around 2015. Transit agencies have been operating fuel cell buses in revenue service and are moving to next-generation technology. By 2017, automakers expect to place tens of thousands of fuel cell vehicles in the hands of California consumers. Today, about 300 fuel cell vehicles have been placed on California’s roads and fill at only 22 hydrogen stations in the state. As the number of fuel cell vehicles in California increases over the next 5-10 years, California is also working hard to make sure hydrogen is easily available to the drivers. For a closer look at hydrogen progress in California, visit the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP) website.
To receive regular fuel cell activity updates, become a friend of the CaFCP on Facebook.
Since fuel cells and hydrogen fueling infrastructure are in the early stages of development, the cost of both the vehicles and the fuel are quite high. However, when fuel cell vehicles hit the showrooms and the fueling infrastructure is in place to meet the demand, the cost of both the fuel and the vehicles will be comparable to their gasoline counterparts.
Currently, there are close to 40 research, public and private hydrogen fueling stations operating in California or in development stages. Below are some resources for finding fueling stations for hydrogen fuel cell cars:
- California Fuel Cell Partnership: The CaFCP maintains a map of all hydrogen fueling stations planned and in operation in California.
- CleanCarMaps.com: Searchable database of EV chargers and alternative fueling stations in California, including compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum, ethanol (E85), hydrogen and biodiesel.
- U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center: A site developed by the Department of Energy that provides maps to refueling stations in the US for CNG, LPG/propane, ethanol, electric, biodiesel, hydrogen, and liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are quiet, very energy efficient, have zero emissions and have equivalent range and performance to their gasoline counterparts.
When operating directly with hydrogen, there are no polluting emissions and no greenhouse gases from a fuel cell – only water and heat. If the hydrogen is generated by reforming fossil fuels, some greenhouse gases are released, but much less than the amount produced by conventional vehicles. In addition to these benefits, fuel cells could dramatically reduce urban air pollution, decrease oil imports, reduce the trade deficit and produce American jobs.
Hydrogen can be produced from many domestic feed stocks, such as natural gas and renewable resources like water, using electrolysis. While the most common method of making hydrogen, using natural gas reformation, results in fewer smog-forming and greenhouse gas emissions than traditional vehicles, California is working to increase use of renewable production sources.
The new federal Fuel Economy and Environment Label, which can be found on the window of every new vehicle, provides a Greenhouse Gas Rating, from 1 (worst) to 10 (best), based on the vehicle's tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions only.
Perks & Conveniences
Fuel cell engines offer a combination of the range of conventional combustion engines with low fuel consumption, minimal or no harmful emissions, low noise emissions, and the comfort of an electric vehicle.
Fuel cell vehicles are being developed with levels of safety, comfort, and cost comparable to those of a conventional vehicles. Like all fuels, hydrogen has energy and needs to be treated with respect. Because hydrogen is lighter than air it disperses very quickly. Manufacturers are committed to building fuel cell vehicles that meet or exceed safety standards.