By Sandra Curtin
Research and Communications Manager
Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (www.fchea.org)
The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Enegy Association(FCHEA) represents the leading companies and organizations that are advancing innovative, clean, safe, and reliable energy technologies.
FCHEA drives support and provides a consistent industry voice to regulators and policymakers. Our educational efforts promote the environmental and economic benefits of fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies.
What are Fuel Cells?
Fuel cells are electrical generation devices that utilize a chemical reaction to unleash a fuel's latent energy. They are clean, quiet, efficient, and scalable, allowing them versatility in nearly every power application.
Unlike traditional combustion technologies that burn fuel, fuel cells undergo a chemical process to convert hydrogen rich fuel into electricity. Fuel cells do not need to be periodically recharged like batteries, but instead continue to produce electricity as long as a fuel source is provided.
A fuel cell is composed of an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte membrane. A fuel cell works by passing hydrogen through the anode of a fuel cell and oxygen through the cathode. At the anode site, the hydrogen molecules are split into electrons and protons. The protons pass through the electrolyte membrane, while the electrons are forced through a circuit generating an electric current and excess heat. At the cathode, the protons, electrons, and oxygen combine to produce water molecules.
Due to their high efficiency, fuel cells are very clean with their only by-products being electricity, excess heat, and water. In addition, as fuel cells do not have any moving parts, they operate near silently.
Fuel cells are also scalable. This means that individual fuel cells can be compiled on one another to form stacks. In turn, these stacks can be combined into larger systems.
Fuel cell systems vary greatly in size and power, from portable systems for smartphone battery recharging, to combustion engine replacements for electric vehicles, to large scale, multi-megawatt installations providing electricity directly to the utility grid.
Benefits at a glance:
Zero emission fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), powered by hydrogen instead of gasoline, are now available in early market areas around the world. These exciting vehicles are offered by three major manufacturers: Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda, with more manufacturers planning to debut FCVs in the next few years. Automakers are pursuing FCVs as a critical component in future zero emission transport.
Fleet operators seeking alternative fuel technologies will find a strong case for FCVs, since they provide enhanced fuel economy, while supplying a longer range and quicker refueling than battery electric vehicles (BEVs). With zero tailpipe emissions, FCVs can enhance corporate sustainability, bolstering an organization's environmental and technology leadership.
FCVs are Electric Vehicles
Like battery cars, FCVs are fully electric vehicles that use a chemical reaction, not combustion, to supply current to an electric motor. Since FCVs generate electricity from hydrogen, they don't need to be plugged in to the electric grid like battery vehicles. Instead, fueling takes just three to five minutes at a hydrogen dispenser, much like fueling today. With one hydrogen fill-up, FCVs can travel about the same distance as gasoline vehicles.
In the U.S., more than 20 hydrogen stations are located in California where FCVs are now sold and leased. Ongoing industry and government efforts are facilitating growth of hydrogen fueling infrastructure with additional stations coming to California and 12 planned in the northeastern U.S. This same growth is occurring internationally, with hydrogen stations beginning to expand across Germany, Scandinavia, Japan, and other countries.
While green vehicle fleets help to advance sustainability, they must also meet or exceed driver needs, including quick and easy refueling and sufficient driving range. FCVs meet these requirements combining the emissions free driving of BEVs with the range and convenience of gasoline powered vehicles.
FCVs are the only ZEV that, for the foreseeable future, replicate today's driver experience, making FCVs ideal for fleet solutions. Forward looking operators have already begun adding FCVs to their fleets:
Munich, Germany: The world's first fuel cell powered, zero emission car sharing service, BeeZero, debuted in 2015 with 50 Hyundai ix35 FCVs. The shared vehicles are available to Munich drivers who book them online or via a smartphone app. This FCV provides about 370 miles on a single tank of hydrogen, making it ideal for both shorter city trips and longer journeys.
Drivers can refill at Munich's public hydrogen filling station and, if venturing beyond Munich, can access more than 30 stations across Germany. A nationwide network of 400 hydrogen stations is planned by 2023.
Paris, France: Electric taxi start-up, STEP (Société du Taxi Electrique Parisien), began building an all FCV fleet when it received five Hyundai ix35 FCVs in late 2015. This coincided with the opening of the first Paris hydrogen station near the Eiffel Tower. STEP plans to grow the fuel cell fleet, called "hype" (HYdrogen Powered Electric), to several hundred vehicles within five years.
Hyundai ix35 FCV in Paris, part of the all-FCV "hype" hydrogen powered taxi fleet operated
by the Société du Taxi Electrique Parisien (STEP). Image courtesy of Hyundai.
South Korea: Hyundai is planning a fuel cell taxi and car sharing business in South Korea. The taxi pilot program will debut in late 2016 with 10 Tucson ix35 FCVs operating in Ulsan City and will grow to 100 fuel cell taxis serving five Korean cities.
Hyundai's car sharing business, developed in partnership with Korean company J'car, will also start in 2016 using 15 Hyundai FCVs and 15 electric cars. By 2020, Hyundai anticipates growing the car sharing business to 300 cars, with half the fleet comprised of FCVs.
London, England: Eco passenger car hire service, greentomatocars, received two Toyota Mirai FCVs in late 2015 to add to their hybrid and electric vehicle fleet. The company says the vehicle provides, "a cost effective, environmentally forward thinking and sophisticated vehicle for the future."
Transport for London (TfL), which oversees the city's transport system, also received four Toyota Mirai FCVs and two Hyundai ix35 FCVs in 2015, using them for business tasks such as off site meetings, and engineering and maintenance work between bus stops and Tube stations.
One of two Toyota Mirai FCVs operated by private-hire car company, greentomatocars,
picking up a London client. Image courtesy of greentomatocars.
California: The city of Long Beach, California, acquired a Toyota Mirai FCV in 2016 for six months of testing in its motor pool, followed by placement in additional departments for testing and feedback. California's Sacramento County also received four Mirai FCVs in 2016 and plans to lease six more.
Governments are providing incentives to broaden the appeal of zero emission vehicles. In the U.S., a federal government tax credit of up to $8,000 is available for qualified light duty FCVs purchased by December 31, 2016. Additional rebates are available for FCV leased or purchased in California ($5,000), Connecticut (up to $3,000), Massachusetts ($2,500), New York ($2,000) and Pennsylvania ($1,000 for purchase). Incentives are also available in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, and the U.K.
Electric Vehicle Choice
Growing numbers of FCVs will become available in early market areas providing fleet customers greater choice in the electric vehicle market. With differing ranges, fueling capabilities, and performance, customers can choose the electric vehicle technology that best suits their fleet requirements.
With quick fueling and a long range, FCVs are set to become a mainstay of zero emission transport and a critical component of green fleets.