Fuel cells: how hydrogen vehicles work and why they represent the solution of the future

24 Aug 2022

The term FCEV (Fuel Cell Vehicle) refers to all vehicles that use hydrogen as fuel.

In particular, hydrogen vehicles represent a very promising form of sustainable mobility, an alternative to hybrid and electric vehicles.

Indeed, many car manufacturers are now looking enthusiastically at fuel cells and hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The different technologies required are all already available and proven: an FCEV indeed uses the same engine as the now quite popular electric cars, combined with a fuel cell and a tank of H2 to replace the lithium batteries of electric cars, which are heavy and take a long time to recharge.

However, a current limitation is the lack of hydrogen charging stations.

Moreover, the research and production of hydrogen vehicles is at an early stage and will still require several years of development.

Let us now look in detail at how hydrogen vehicle fuel cells work.

How fuel cells and hydrogen vehicles work

The fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that generates electricity through the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to form water, where oxygen is supplied by air sucked in from the environment:

2 H₂ + O₂ ->2 HO

There are various electrochemical cell technologies.

Of these, the most reliable and high-performance for automotive applications is the PEM (Polymer Electrolyte Membrane) technology.

The latter uses a solid electrolyte that guarantees good stability and enables high conversion efficiencies.

In particular, the high efficiency of fuel cells lies in the conversion of chemical energy to electrical energy.

However, this takes place without conversion into thermal energy as happens in conventional combustion engines.

The benefits of fuel cell technology: why they represent the solution of the future

In general, fuel cell technology can overcome all the problems associated with electric vehicles using batteries or internal combustion engines.

Indeed, they allow:

  • to guarantee a high autonomy, comparable to that of internal combustion vehicles
  • to drastically reduce recharging times compared to electric vehicles with lithium batteries, being able to fill up with hydrogen in a few minutes
  • to reduce pollutant emissions because hydrogen is the only fuel that has no pollutant emissions in any way it is used

Not only that, hydrogen vehicles differ between those at 350 bar and those at 700 bar. In particular, these two values refer to the storage pressure of hydrogen in the tanks.

Heavy vehicles such as trains, buses and trucks use 350 bar storage, as they have more space available. Having hydrogen at 350 bar provides significant savings:

  • for the filling station, which has lower energy consumption for compression.
  • for the vehicle itself, which requires the use of less expensive tanks.

Vehicles for private use, such as small cars, use hydrogen at 700 bar because space is limited, and with higher pressure, more hydrogen can be stored in a smaller volume.

Generally, heavy vehicles have tanks ranging from 30 to 40 kg, while light vehicles do not go beyond 6 kg.

We at Simplifhy realise complete solutions for the production and use of hydrogen, to make our contribution to the development of sustainable mobility.

Contact us for more information.

In Simplifhy we offer strategies and systems for the decarbonisation of industry, through deployment of Hydrogen-based technologies as an alternative fuel.

Our plants are tailoredaccording to the necessities of each specific project.

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