What are Fuel Cell Vehicles and Their Purpose?


A fuel cell vehicle, sometimes called a fuel cell electric vehicle, is an electric car that doesn’t use a battery and instead has a fuel cell. Sometimes, however, FCVs and FCEVs use a combination of supercapacitor and battery to power the electric motor. The fuel cell generates the electricity required to power the motor, which usually uses compressed hydrogen and oxygen. These vehicles are considered zero-emissions vehicles because they only emit heat and water.

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When compared to internal combustion engines, hydrogen engines can centralize any pollutants when hydrogen is produced. Hydrogen is usually a reformed natural gas. However, the transportation and storage of hydrogen can produce some pollutants.

Where They’re Used

Fuel cells can be used in many vehicles, such as forklifts, which is highly suitable for indoor applications where pollution can pose a significant health risk to employees. They’re also widely used in space applications.

However, in the last decade or so, many vehicle manufacturers have looked into using hydrogen fuel cells in automobiles. The first FCV automobile was the Hyundai Tucson FCEV, which was put on the market in 2013. In 2015, the Toyota Mirai followed suit, and then Honda joined the market.

Fuel cells are currently being tested and developed for buses, trucks, boats, bicycles, motorcycles, and many other vehicles.

Why They’re Aren’t Popular

The biggest issue FCEV/FCV owners have is that there isn’t a large hydrogen infrastructure yet, though many automakers are working toward creating more to ensure that the FCV/FCEV market blossoms. In 2017, the United States only had 36 hydrogen fueling stations that were publicly available. However, more hydrogen stations are in the works, especially in locations like California where emissions and pollution are hot-button topics.

Overseas, hydrogen fueling stations do exist, and plans for new ones are being created in Europe, Japan, and others.

Along with the inability to find fueling stations suitable, critics claim that hydrogen isn’t cost-effective or efficient as fuel for vehicles. There are other technologies for zero emission needs that are currently being studied and researched.

Purpose/Description of Fuel Cells

Fuel cells have three primary components including the cathode, anode, and electrolyte. In theory, the fuel cells function similarly to batteries because they both produce electricity to run the electric motor. However, a fuel cell does not need to be recharged and can be filled with hydrogen to continue powering the motor. It works similarly as gasoline for internal-combustion engines.

There are different fuel cell types, which include direct methanol, polymer electrolyte membrane, molten carbonate, phosphoric acid, reformed methanol, and solid oxide fuel cells, as well as regenerative fuel cells.

Where They are Today

While the Honda FCX Clarity introduced fuel cells into the market in 2008, it was only available in Southern California and Japan. They discontinued the vehicle in 2015. Honda leased about 45 FCX vehicles in the United States from 2008 to 2014. During that time, more than 20 FCEV demonstration and prototype vehicles were released, such as the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell and the GM HydroGen4.

The Hyundai ix35 FCEV was released in 2014 and has sold 54 units since.

The Toyota Mirai was primarily available to corporate and government customers in Japan during 2014. Some claimed that the carmaker would lose $100,000 for each one sold. As of the end of 2017, 5,300 Mirais were sold globally with 2,900 units sold in the United States, 200 sold in Europe, and 2,100 sold in Japan.

You can still find FCEVs and FCVs available, most carmakers have phased them out of production citing too high a cost to manufacture them and little response and desire to own one.

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What are Fuel Cell Vehicles and Their Purpose?

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