APPLICATIONS & MARKETS
FOR FUEL CELLS & HYDROGEN
POWERING THE WORLD
Fuel cells generate electricity from a hydrogen-rich fuel and oxygen from the air with the only emissions being water vapour. Therefore, any application that requires electricity from small portable gadgets to electric trucks and buses can utilise fuel cells.
Electrolysers generate hydrogen from electricity and water. In simple terms, an electrolyser can be considered the reverse of a fuel cell. Together these technologies enable a brighter, greener future as the world moves towards zero-carbon emissions.
THE GREEN ENERGY REVOLUTION
If we take as given that the green energy revolution is now irreversible, then the first battleground is not battery electric vehicles (BEV) vs fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), but rather which is the energy storage medium that offers the best long-term storage potential. As below, hydrogen is the only medium that offers storage over seasons. Fuel cells, therefore, will be a large part of the future value chain.
HYDROGEN POWER STORAGE
The secret to switching the global energy system entirely to renewables may lay in the universe’s most abundant substance
With renewable energy, there is a need to store excess energy for later use. Batteries increasingly are shifting power from day to night, but they tend to go flat after a few weeks. Hydrogen can be kept indefinitely in tanks. That would allow, for example, voltage collected from solar panels in the summer to be used in winter. Excess power from wind or photovoltaics would drive electrolysis, separating water into its component hydrogen and oxygen elements. The hydrogen captured by that process could, whenever needed, feed natural gas power plants or fuel cells to make electricity. Industrial plants like oil refineries can also use hydrogen for chemical processes.
To date, the energy industry has focused mainly on hydrogen’s potential in fuel cells, which use the element in a chemical reaction to generate electricity. On power-storage, most of the money is going into batteries like the lithium-ion cells widely used in mobile phones and laptop computers. But those tend to lose charge if not topped up and discharged frequently.
Hydrogen storage is attractive because it preserves energy for longer periods. The only real alternative at the moment is pumping water onto a hilltop reservoir, where it can dammed up until grid managers are ready to let it flow down through hydropower turbines. That so-called pumped storage requires the right geography.
FUEL CELL ELECTRIC VEHICLES
Electric vehicles powered by fuel cell cells include scooters, passenger cars, vans, trucks, buses, drones and planes. Listed below are some of the features of fuel cell electric vehicles.
Fuel cell electric passenger cars can travel up to 779km on a single tank of hydrogen offering similar ranges to a comparable internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. Compare that to a similar battery electric vehicle (BEV) that requires hours of charging for a couple of hundred km range.
A passenger fuel cell electric vehicle can be refuelled in 3 mins giving it a range of 500+km. A fuel cell electric bus or truck can be refuelled in 10 mins giving them ranges and duty cycles compared to the ICE equivalent. A typical BEV passenger vehicle requires 1-8 hours of charging.
END OF LIFE SUSTAINABILITY
Fuel cell stacks are highly recyclable at the end of life of a fuel cell electric vehicle. Even the platinum from the MEA can be recovered and reused, as can the other metal components. However, lithium-ion batteries have limited potential for recycling and this creates a negative environmental impact when it comes to disposing of these.
BUSES AND HEAVY GOODS VEHICLES
As battery electric vehicles get heavier they require more batteries to move them further but the extra batteries create additional weight without the attendant increases in range. For example, a 12 wheeler truck would require 8-tonnes of batteries to power it. This then impacts on the economics of the freight-carrying business. Because hydrogen is very energy dense and almost weight-less the fuel cell system and hydrogen tank do not weight much more than the equivalent ICE engine giving the truck or bus similar ranges to it ICE counterpart.