Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen. The process is called electrolysis, and it’s similar to what happens in a battery. But the key difference is that while batteries use an electrochemical reaction where electrons are stripped from one electrode (usually lead or nickel), then passed through a wire to the other electrode (usually lead oxide) before being reunited with protons on the other side, hydrogen fuel cells work entirely differently. Hydrogen gas enters one half of a cell, passes over another catalyst-coated membrane which separates it into positive ions and electrons before they meet again at the second half of the cell where they react together, producing heat as well as electricity.
This type of system has some big advantages over traditional power plants which rely on burning hydrogen gas to produce heat, and the steam from that reaction turns a turbine. Fuel cells can work with pretty much any element as fuel (including methane and propane), which means they’re working more like batteries than conventional generators.
The main barrier to using hydrogen is making it at a reasonable price, but most of that comes from producing energy in environmentally unfriendly ways, such as by burning gas or coal rather than splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, so we’re still better off than if we were relying entirely on fossil fuels. Another is creating lightweight tanks for the pressurized hydrogen itself: current models are bulky and impractical for use in everyday vehicles, but even so, they’ve already become common in forklifts and buses.
The benefits of fuel cells don’t stop there.
They also produce very little pollution; just water vapor, and heat, making them a much more attractive option for powering electric vehicles than either petrol or diesel engines. And unlike batteries, which can take hours to recharge, hydrogen tanks can be refilled in minutes.
A lack of fueling infrastructure makes them impractical at the moment. This would require a huge investment in new manufacturing plants and hydrogen tanks before they could be used by the general public.
Hydrogen is also more difficult to store than gasoline because it has a lower volumetric energy density, about one-third of 33%.
Filling up with Hydrogen hasn’t been as easy as pumping gas; you need special equipment for compression and cooling down the gas to make it liquefied, which takes time (less than 5 minutes) vs 10-15 minutes for electric vehicles and 15-20 minutes for conventional vehicles.
The high cost of fuel cell technology is still a major obstacle to their widespread adoption.
Like electric vehicles, FCEVs suffer from “range anxiety”, the fear that you won’t be able to find a place to refuel your vehicle when it runs out of gas.
Fuel cells have been around for a while, but they’ve only started becoming practical in the past few years as the technology has advanced. Many companies are developing and testing fuel cell electric vehicles, including Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda. Some of these cars are already being used in public transport systems, such as the buses in London run by the company Wrightbus. And there are several projects underway to create refueling stations for hydrogen-powered vehicles, including one in Germany that’s due to open in 2017. So it’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll be seeing fuel cell electric vehicles on the roads in the not too distant future.
Fuel cells are the future of automotive transportation. The only byproduct of this process is water vapor, so they don’t emit any harmful emissions. Fuel Cells work through a chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen gas in an electrochemical cell; applying a voltage difference across electrodes immersed in electrolyte produces an electric current for powering motors or other devices.