Fuel Cell Technology in Cars

Published On April 23, 2014 | Green Tech

While still not at the point of going the way of the dinosaur, the internal combustion engine is facing increasingly stiff competition from fast-evolving fuel cell technologies. Fuel cells use hydrogen – the most abundant element in the known universe – to generate electrical power quietly and efficiently, without pollution. Unlike internal combustion engines that use fossil fuels and produce more harmful emissions, the by-products from an operating fuel cell are just heat and water.

The environmental benefits of fuel cells are many, so it’s understandable that as the price for the technology drops, more drivers will look to get behind the wheel of cars powered by fuel cell technology.

How Fuel Cells Work

Fuel cells use a process similar to the reverse of electrolysis. Hydrogen and oxygen are combined in the presence of a catalyst, thus generating electricity. Though fuel cells are much more efficient than internal combustion engines, cost has been the prohibitive factor in their mass production in cars. Until now, fuel cells have mainly been made one at a time, greatly increasing the cost of making them. However, now that the basic technology of the fuel cell has been demonstrated and substantiated, plans are in place by automakers to submit the technology to mass production.

While no fuel cell cars are currently available for commercial sale, the technology is used in a wide range of transport modes, mostly buses and forklifts. Many companies and car makers are getting on the fuel cell road and planning to roll models out to consumers.

Plug Power

Plug Power’s GenDrive fuel cell is a leading alternative to lead-acid batteries used primarily for electric lift trucks (forklifts). Plug Power sells fuel cells to Wal-Mart, BMW, Coca Cola, FedEx, and Lowe’s. By using fuel cell technology instead of standard lead-acid batteries, users have found they can slash their electrical bills. Employing the available fuel cell technology instead is certainly a money-saving alternative and a boon for the environment.

Toyota’s New FCV

Toyota’s new fuel cell car is set to roll off the assembly line in 2015. The new vehicle would use the Prius’ Hybrid Synergy Drive, with a hydrogen fuel cell replacing the gas engine. Toyota asserts the vehicle will have a range of approximately 300 miles on a single charge and could be refueled in as little as three minutes.

Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell Car

Set to be available in spring 2015, Hyundai’s Tucson will be able to travel up to 300 miles between fills and take only ten minutes to refuel. It will be initially available for lease for $499 a month for 36 months. This will include all maintenance and unlimited fuel costs. Hyundai plans to build 1,000 hydrogen Tucsons through 2016. As with other fuel cell car initiatives, one of the major hurdles will be deploying the cars despite the distinct lack of hydrogen pumps at which to refuel.

The road from the internal combustion engine to cleaner, more efficient fuel cell technologies has been full of stops and pot holes. Still, we are getting closer to the technology being more widely available. Automotive emissions are a major contributor to air pollution, and fuel cell technology is one possible solution this problem.

– By Jessica Oaks

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