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Hydrogen Fuel Cell

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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

A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle is powered by a group of individual fuel cells, known as a fuel cell stack. Individual fuel cells must be combined into groups called fuel cell stacks in order to achieve the necessary power required for motor vehicle applications. A fuel cell stack produces power as long as fuel is available, similar to a combustion engine. The hydrogen fuel for a fuel cell electric vehicle can be supplied in several ways. Most vehicles carry a tank of pure high-pressure hydrogen gas. The electricity generated by the fuel cell stack powers the electric motor that propels the vehicle.

Each 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. Visit California's Hydrogen FCEV Resource Center for more on FCEVs.


Most automakers have placed fuel cell electric vehicles with customers, and many plan to introduce FCEVs to the early commercial market in the 2015-2017 timeframe. By 2020, automakers expect to place tens of thousands of fuel cell electric vehicles in the hands of California consumers. Today, about 300 FCEVs have been placed on California’s roads and fill at public and private hydrogen stations in the state. These vehicles have either been leased in Southern California or have joined fleet programs. As the number of FCEVs in California increases over the next 5 to 10 years, California is working hard to ensure hydrogen is easily available to drivers.

For the latest on each auto manufacturer's plan for FCEV development and commercialization, visit the following websites:

There are also a number of websites that track FCEV developments and may provide a closer look at the projected FCEV market:


Most people assume that driving a FCEV is too expensive for the average Californian. Since current leasing packages for FCEVs include fuel, service and maintenance, physical damage insurance, in addition to all of the other perks and benefits you get from driving a FCEV, these cars may make sense—not just for the environment, but for your pocketbook. For an example of FCEV leasing cost, visit California's Hydrogen FCEV Resource Center.

As for the cost of fuel, the standards for measuring dispensed hydrogen fuel for sale in California are under development, but do not exist today. Although FCEV drivers have access to hydrogen fueling stations around the state, drivers are not paying for the fuel based on the amount dispensed. The cost of providing fuel is packaged as an add-on in vehicle lease agreements. The state of California is aiming to sell hydrogen in the retail market before 2015.


Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are eligible in California for single-occupant HOV lane use. Check out the incentives search to find other incentives in your region.


California has 13 research hydrogen fueling stations, 9 public stations and an additional 18 that have been funded and are expected to be operational in the next few years. 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.

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. Drivers identify range, refueling time, emissions, power, and performance as valuable vehicle characteristics.


Electric motor / fuel cell stack plus battery


High-pressure hydrogen gas


Between 300 – 400 miles (some FCEVs go even further) on a full tank.


Time: Full size FCEVs take approximately 3minutes to fill.

Fuel Type: Currently all vehicles can operate on hydrogen gas compressed to 35 MPa, but most FCEVs run on compressed hydrogen gas at 70 MPa. It is anticipated that all future FCEV models will operate on hydrogen gas at 70MPa because it provides longer driving range between fills.   

Cost: Until measurement standards are developed and implemented, hydrogen gas cannot be sold as a retail fuel. Today, fuel costs are typically included the FCEV lease cost.

Fuel Cell:

FCEVs utilize proton exchange membrane fuel cells that are between 70 – 100 kW.


FCEVs on the market today typically have lithium ion batteries that are between 1 – 3 kWh.


FCEVs are zero emission vehicles. Water vapor is the only emission from the tailpipe. The only emissions are associated with the hydrogen production method, which may be renewable, and the delivery of hydrogen to the station.



The United States is committed to reducing its dependence on petroleum fuels as a result of increasing focus on environmental, public health, and energy security issues.  California is taking a leadership role in deploying new fuel and vehicle technologies that can benefit its constituents across these areas. As a fuel capable of being produced from domestic, conceivably renewable, feedstocks and carbon-free, hydrogen has the potential to become a substantial portion of our sustainable transportation fuel portfolio. Fuel cell electric vehicles are highly-efficient, have zero tailpipe emissions, and can be powered by domestically-produced hydrogen fuel. Consequently, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle adoption in California will help the state achieve its environmental, public health, and energy security goals.

You can make a difference now by driving a FCEV. More information about why FCEVs are good for California can be found on the California Fuel Cell Partnership's website.

Hydrogen Production

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. FCEVs also qualify for incentives that provide additional perks relating to cost and convenience.


Auto manufacturers are committed to building fuel cell vehicles that are as safe or safer than conventional vehicles by meeting the standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers and other standard development organizations. Fuel cell electric vehicles have essential safety systems designed to protect passengers and first responders in case of an accident. Most importantly, FCEVs are held to the same safety requirements as conventional vehicles set by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

The fuel cell stack and high-voltage battery pack in FCEVs also pose no additional risks over a conventional vehicle. Both the fuel cell stack and battery pack are sealed separately in metal cases and electrically insulated from the vehicle’s metal body. There are a number of safety systems designed into the vehicle to prevent high voltage hazards. High-voltage circuits are also color-coded orange and posted with warnings to advise of their presence. First Responders undergo training so that they are prepared to appropriately respond to potential emergency situations involving fuel cell electric vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel is stored at high pressures (up to 70 MPa) in tanks much stronger than typical gasoline fuel tanks. The hydrogen storage tanks are designed to withstand twice the maximum pressure to avoid rupture. The tanks undergo rigorous testing to validate the safety of the vehicle under severe or unusual conditions to meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for crash safety. Sensors are located throughout the vehicle and, in conjunction with the safety systems, ensure that the driver and the vehicle are safe in the unlikely event of a hydrogen leak. To learn more, the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy provides an animation demonstrating multiple safety systems in FCEVs that prevent the accidental release of hydrogen. To date, FCEVs have been involved in real-world collisions without major incident.

Fueling your FCEV is easy and safe. A hydrogen fueling dispenser, hose, nozzle, vehicle hydrogen storage tank all have built-in safety protection that is tested and certified by national codes and standards, as well as automotive standards for FCEV hydrogen fueling.

Additional Resources

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