Electric vehicles or referred to as EVs, are the future of mobility. They aid in reducing vehicle pollution and pave the way to a cleaner and greener environment. However, technology is something that gets advanced with each passing day. The next avatar of electric cars is the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. They have a close resemblance to EVs, but the working principle is entirely different. In this article, let's discuss hydrogen fuel cells for cars.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are similar to electric cars. Both use an electric motor for propulsion instead of an internal combustion engine. But the similarities end there because an EV needs an external power source to recharge the battery. In contrast, a hydrogen-powered vehicle can generate electricity onboard with the help of a fuel cell.
Now, you may ask, where is the hydrogen stored in the vehicle? Like petrol or diesel, one can refuel hydrogen, and it's stored in the vehicle's pressurised tank. The vehicle's fuel cell utilises hydrogen to produce electricity to power the electric motor.
A hydrogen car also has an onboard battery to store electricity produced by the fuel cell. Typically, the fuel cell directly powers the motor. However, when there is more demand for power, the electricity stored in the battery is utilised.
In the following section, we will discuss the working principle of a fuel cell in an FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle).
An FCEV is similar to an electric vehicle as both use a similar propulsion system. Powering the fuel cell car is hydrogen stored in the vehicle’s fuel tank. Hydrogen is converted to electricity to propel the car.
A hydrogen fuel engine car produces zero tailpipe emissions. Hydrogen is one of the alternative fuels of the future, and car manufacturers are working on making this technology feasible for the masses.
To understand the working of an FCEV, you can glance through the points below.
As mentioned earlier, a fuel cell car runs on pure hydrogen. The pressurised fuel tank holds hydrogen onboard.
One can fuel up hydrogen similar to conventional fuels like petrol or diesel.
The hydrogen fuel is fed into the fuel cell to begin the process of converting hydrogen to electricity.
A fuel cell comprises liquid (polymer electrolyte), a positively charged electrode (anode) and a negatively charged electrode (cathode).
An electrochemical reaction converts hydrogen to electricity when hydrogen enters the fuel cell.
Along with hydrogen, oxygen is also introduced into the fuel cell to aid the chemical reaction.
During the reaction, hydrogen atoms split to form protons and electrons. Here, protons turn into the exhaust (water), and the electrons produce an electric current.
The fuel cell can directly power the electric motor or store the electricity onboard via a battery.
A fuel cell acts as a power generation system in an FCEV. The combination of hydrogen fuel and a fuel cell results in the onboard generation of electricity. The only tailpipe exhaust is pure water. Hence, fuel cell cars are environment-friendly, similar to electric vehicles.
Also, read: How do electric cars work?
Like every other type of vehicle, a fuel cell vehicle also has its set of pros of cons. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of FCEVs.
Here are some of the pros of hydrogen FCEVs.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars deliver excellent performance with full torque available at low speeds.
With no internal combustion engine, an FCEV is quiet in operation. It’s an experience similar to an electric car.
Another main advantage of a fuel cell vehicle is the quick refuelling time. One can refuel hydrogen in a matter of a few minutes.
Hydrogen-powered cars deliver a longer driving range than electric vehicles.
The driving range does not depend on the atmospheric temperature. Hence, the driving range does not reduce in cold temperatures.
A hydrogen fuel car produces zero carbon emissions as the only exhaust produced is water.
Below are some of the disadvantages of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles.
One of the significant drawbacks of an FCEV is the lack of hydrogen refuelling stations. Since the technology is in its nascent stage, infrastructure development is a big challenge.
Since it's a new technology, hydrogen fuel cars are more expensive than their EV counterparts. Hence, you may have to pay a premium price to own an FCEV.
FCEVs cabin space gets compromised due to the hydrogen fuel tank. It can eat into the cabin space, especially if it's a small car.
The running cost of a hydrogen-powered car is higher than an electric car. That's because hydrogen costs more than electrical energy. However, it may change once there is more demand for hydrogen and production levels go up.
A fuel cell car produces zero carbon emissions. However, hydrogen production requires electricity, and if the electricity is produced using fossil fuels, it will ultimately lead to carbon footprints.
Refer to the below table to understand the key differences between hydrogen fuel cell cars and electric vehicles.
|Parameter||Hydrogen fuel cell cars||Electric cars|
|Propulsion system||Electric motor||Electric motor|
|Power source||Fuel cell||External electrical point|
|Energy storage||Hydrogen fuel tank||Battery pack|
|Driving range||Higher than electric cars||Lower than electric cars|
|Availability of refuelling stations||Low, due to lack of hydrogen refuelling stations.||High, due to the easy availability of charging stations across the country.|
|Price||Expensive||Affordable than fuel cell cars|
|Emissions||Zero carbon emissions||Zero carbon emissions|
|Running cost||Higher than electric cars||Low|
As mentioned earlier, the hydrogen fuel cell is an infant technology. Compared to electric vehicles technology, fuel cell vehicles have a long road ahead. Currently, there are no hydrogen fuel cell cars on sale in India. However, several car manufacturers have shown their intent to introduce such vehicles in India. It will be interesting to see hydrogen car prices in India compared to electric cars.
Currently, there are not many hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on sale, even in the global market. Manufacturers such as Hyundai, Toyota and Honda sell fuel cell cars globally, and the global automotive giants are expected to introduce FCEVs in India.
Coming to the Indian market, Toyota has recently launched a pilot project to test the Mirai FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle). The Japanese automaker and the Indian government's testing agency, iCAT (International Centre for Automotive Technology), will study and evaluate the hydrogen-powered car for Indian conditions.
Toyota is using a second-gen Toyota Mirai for testing in India. The car's overall design leans towards the conventional vehicle, and it does not look like a spaceship straight out of a fantasy movie, considering it runs on futuristic technology.
Talking about the car's technical details, the Mirai has a range of 650 km on a full tank of hydrogen. The car can sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 9 seconds and hits a top speed of 175 km/h.
One of the most significant advantages of Mirai is that the hydrogen tank can be refilled within a couple of minutes, provided you have access to a hydrogen refuelling station. Toyota may introduce the Mirai in India if the pilot testing goes well. But there's no official word on the Mirai's launch in the Indian market.
If launched, expect the hydrogen vehicle to carry a price tag of around Rs. 60 lakhs ex-showroom.
Apart from Toyota, Hyundai may also introduce the Nexo hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in India. It may come with a price tag of around Rs. 65 lakhs ex-showroom.
Here are some of the most common questions related to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Are hydrogen fuel cell cars safe to drive?
Yes, hydrogen-powered cars are safe to drive. Since hydrogen fuel is stored in a pressurised tank, there is no chance of any hazard, even if there’s a crash. Car manufacturers ensure that the fuel tank is strong enough to withstand impact to avoid any mishaps.
Do hydrogen cars produce zero emissions?
Yes, hydrogen vehicles produce zero carbon emissions. The exhaust of a hydrogen FCEV includes only pure water.
Are hydrogen cars better than electric cars?
In the current scenario, electric cars are better in terms of infrastructure, practicality and running costs. However, a hydrogen car delivers a better driving range when compared to EVs. But they are not feasible with no proper infrastructure.
Do hydrogen fuel cells wear out over time?
No, hydrogen fuel cells do not wear over time. As long as there is a fuel supply, a fuel cell continues to produce electricity.
Are there any hydrogen cars on sale in India?
Currently, there are no hydrogen cars on sale in India.
Which are the upcoming hydrogen cars in India?
Hyundai Nexo is the upcoming hydrogen-powered car in India.
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