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Fuel cell vehicle


Fuel cell vehicle

Toyota Mirai, 2014
2014 Honda FCX Clarity (discontinued)[1]

A fuel cell vehicle (FCV) or fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is a type of vehicle which uses a fuel cell to power its on-board electric motor. Fuel cells in vehicles create electricity to power an electric motor, generally using oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen. A fuel cell vehicle that is fueled with hydrogen emits only water and heat, but no tailpipe pollutants, therefore it is considered a zero-emissions vehicle. Depending on the process, however, producing the hydrogen used in the vehicle creates pollutants. Fuel cells have been used in various kinds of vehicles including forklifts, especially in indoor applications where their clean emissions are important to air quality, and in space applications. The first commercial production fuel cell automobiles are being sold in California by Toyota and leased on a limited basis by Hyundai, with additional manufacturers planning to enter the market. Furthermore, fuel cells are being developed and tested in buses, boats, motorcycles and bicycles, among other kinds of vehicles.

As of early 2014, there is limited hydrogen infrastructure, with 10 hydrogen fueling stations for automobiles publicly available in the U.S., but more hydrogen stations are planned, particularly in California. New stations are also planned in Japan and Germany. Critics doubt whether hydrogen will be efficient or cost effective for automobiles, as compared with other zero emission technologies.


  • Description and purpose of fuel cells in vehicles 1
  • Emissions 2
  • History 3
  • Applications 4
    • Automobiles 4.1
    • Buses 4.2
    • Forklifts 4.3
    • Motorcycles and bicycles 4.4
    • Airplanes 4.5
    • Boats 4.6
    • Submarines 4.7
    • Trams 4.8
  • Hydrogen infrastructure 5
  • Codes and standards 6
  • USA programs 7
  • Efficiency and cost 8
    • Well-to-Wheels analysis 8.1
  • Criticism 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13

Description and purpose of fuel cells in vehicles

All fuel cells are made up of three parts: an electrolyte, an anode and a cathode.[2] In principle, a hydrogen fuel cell functions like a battery, producing electricity, which can run an electric motor. Instead of requiring recharging, however, the fuel cell can be refilled with hydrogen.[3] Different types of fuel cells include polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) Fuel Cells, direct methanol fuel cells, phosphoric acid fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, solid oxide fuel cells, reformed methanol fuel cell and Regenerative Fuel Cells.[4]


As of 2009, motor vehicles used most of the petroleum consumed in the U.S. and produced over 60% of the carbon monoxide emissions and about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.[5] In contrast, a vehicle fueled with pure hydrogen emits few pollutants, producing mainly water and heat, although the production of the hydrogen would create pollutants unless the hydrogen used in the fuel cell were produced using only renewable energy.[6]


The concept of the fuel cell was first demonstrated by Humphry Davy in 1801, but the invention of the first working fuel cell is credited to William Grove, a chemist, lawyer, and physicist. Grove's experiments with what he called a "gas voltaic battery" proved in 1842 that an electric current could be produced by the electrochemical reaction of breaking the hydrogen atom.[7] The first modern fuel cell vehicle was a modified Allis-Chalmers farm tractor, fitted with a 15 kilowatt fuel cell, around 1959.[8] The Cold War Space Race drove further development of fuel cell technology. Project Gemini tested fuel cells to provide electrical power during manned space missions.[9][10] Fuel cell development continued with the Apollo Program. The electrical power systems in the Apollo capsules and lunar modules used alkali fuel cells.[9] In 1966, General Motors developed the first fuel cell road vehicle, the Chevrolet Electrovan.[11] It had a PEM fuel cell, a range of 120 miles and a top speed of 70 mph. There were only two seats, as the fuel cell stack and fuel tanks took up the rear portion of the van. Only one was built, as the project was deemed cost-prohibitive.[12] General Electric and others continued working on PEM fuel cells in the 1970s.[9]

1966 GM Electrovan[13]

Fuel cell stacks were still limited principally to space applications in the 1980s, including the Space Shuttle.[9] However, the closure of the Apollo Program sent many industry experts to private companies. By the 1990s, automobile manufacturers were interested in fuel cell applications, and demonstration vehicles were readied. In 2001, the first 700 Bar (10000 PSI) hydrogen tanks were demonstrated, reducing the size of the fuel tanks that could be used in vehicles and extending the range.[14]


There are fuel cell vehicles for all modes of transport. The most prevalent fuel cell vehicles are cars, buses, forklifts and material handling vehicles.[15]


Production of the Honda FCX Clarity began in 2008, and was available for leasing customers in Japan and Southern California. In 2014 Honda announced the end of production of the FCX Clarity for the 2015 model. From 2008 to 2014, Honda leased a total of 45 FCX units in the US.[1] The Hyundai ix35 FCEV Fuel Cell vehicle is available for lease.[16] In 2014, a total of 54 units were leased.[17] Over 20 other FCEVs prototypes and demonstration cars have been released since 2009.[18] Automobiles such as the GM HydroGen4,[11] and Mercedes-Benz F-Cell are pre-commercial examples of fuel cell electric vehicles. Fuel cell electric vehicles have driven more than 3 million miles, with more than 27,000 refuelings.[19]

The Toyota Mirai was unveiled at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Sales of the Toyota Mirai to government and corporate customers began in Japan on December 15, 2014.[20] Pricing starts at ¥6.7 million (~US$57,400) before taxes and a government incentive of ¥2 million (~US$19,600).[21] Former European Parliament President Pat Cox estimates that Toyota will initially lose about $100,000 on each Mirai sold.[22] Initially sales are not available to individual retail customers. As of December 2014, domestic orders had reached over 400 Mirais, surpassing Japan's first-year sales target, and as a result, there was a waiting list of more than a year.[20] Toyota plans to build 700 vehicles for global sales during 2015, 400 to be sold in Japan, 200 units in the United States and between 50 to 100 units in Europe.[23] Sales are scheduled to begin in California by mid-2015, followed by five Northeastern States in the first half of 2016. The market launch in Europe is slated for September 2015.[23]

Some notable releases since 2008 include:[18]

Limited commercial releases
Demonstration or concept vehicles
Fuel economy

The following table compares EPA's fuel economy expressed in miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) for the three hydrogen fuel cell vehicles rated by the EPA as of August 2015, and available only in California.[24]

Comparison of fuel economy expressed in MPGe for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
available for leasing in California and rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as of August 2015[24]
Vehicle Model year Combined
fuel economy
fuel economy
fuel economy
Range Annual
fuel cost
Honda FCX Clarity 2014 59 mpg-e 58 mpg-e 60 mpg-e 231 mi (372 km) NA
Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell 2016 50 mpg-e 49 mpg-e 51 mpg-e 265 mi (426 km) US$1,700
Toyota Mirai 2016 66 mpg-e 66 mpg-e 66 mpg-e 312 mi (502 km) US$1,250
Notes: One kg of hydrogen is roughly equivalent to one U.S. gallon of gasoline.


Mercedes-Benz fuel cell bus.

There are also demonstration models of buses,[25] and in total there are over 100 [28] The Fuel Cell Bus Club is a global cooperative effort in trial fuel cell buses. Notable Projects Include:

  • 12 Fuel cell buses are being deployed in the Oakland and San Francisco Bay area of California.[28]
  • Daimler AG, with thirty-six experimental buses powered by Ballard Power Systems fuel cells completed a successful three-year trial, in eleven cities, in January 2007.[29][30]
  • A fleet of Thor buses with UTC Power fuel cells was deployed in California, operated by SunLine Transit Agency.[31]

The first Brazilian hydrogen fuel cell bus prototype in Brazil was deployed in São Paulo. The bus was manufactured in Caxias do Sul and the hydrogen fuel will be produced in São Bernardo do Campo from water through electrolysis. The program, called "Ônibus Brasileiro a Hidrogênio" (Brazilian Hydrogen Autobus), includes three additional buses.[32][33]


A fuel cell forklift (also called a fuel cell lift truck or a fuel cell forklift) is a fuel cell-powered industrial forklift truck used to lift and transport materials. Most fuel cells used in forklifts are powered by PEM fuel cells.[34]

In 2013 there were over 4,000 fuel cell forklifts used in material handling in the USA[35] from which only 500 received funding from DOE (2012).[36][37] Fuel cell fleets are operated by a large number of companies, including Sysco Foods, FedEx Freight, GENCO (at Wegmans, Coca-Cola, Kimberly Clark, and Whole Foods), and H-E-B Grocers.[38] Europe demonstrated 30 fuel cell forklifts with Hylift and extended it with HyLIFT-EUROPE to 200 units,[39] with other projects in France[40][41] and Austria.[42] Pike Research stated in 2011 that fuel-cell-powered forklifts will be the largest driver of hydrogen fuel demand by 2020.[43]

PEM fuel-cell-powered forklifts provide significant benefits over both petroleum powered forklifts as they produce no local emissions. As compared with electric vehicles, fuel-cell forklifts can work for a full 8-hour shift on a single tank of hydrogen, can be refueled in 3 minutes and have a lifetime of 8–10 years. Fuel cell-powered forklifts are often used in refrigerated warehouses as their performance is not degraded by lower temperatures.[44] In design the FC units are often made as drop-in replacements.[45][46]

Motorcycles and bicycles

Yamaha FC-me motorcycle.

In 2005 the British firm Intelligent Energy produced the first ever working hydrogen run motorcycle called the ENV (Emission Neutral Vehicle). The motorcycle holds enough fuel to run for four hours, and to travel 160 km (100 mi) in an urban area, at a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph).[47] In 2004 Honda developed a fuel-cell motorcycle which utilized the Honda FC Stack.[48][49] There are other examples of bikes[50] and bicycles[51] with a hydrogen fuel cell engine. The Suzuki Burgman received "whole vehicle type" approval in the EU.[52] The Taiwanese company APFCT conducts a live street test with 80 fuel cell scooters[53] for Taiwans Bureau of Energy using the fueling system from Italy's Acta SpA[54] with a 2012 production target of 1,000 fuel cell scooters.


The Boeing Fuel Cell Demonstrator powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

Boeing researchers and industry partners throughout Europe conducted experimental flight tests in February 2008 of a manned airplane powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight batteries. The Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane, as it was called, used a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power an electric motor, which was coupled to a conventional propeller.[55] In 2003, the world's first propeller driven airplane to be powered entirely by a fuel cell was flown. The fuel cell was a unique FlatStackTM stack design which allowed the fuel cell to be integrated with the aerodynamic surfaces of the plane.[56]

There have been several fuel cell powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). A Horizon fuel cell UAV set the record distance flow for a small UAV in 2007.[57] The military is especially interested in this application because of the low noise, low thermal signature and ability to attain high altitude. In 2009 the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL’s) Ion Tiger utilized a hydrogen-powered fuel cell and flew for 23 hours and 17 minutes.[58] Boeing is completing tests on the Phantom Eye, a high-altitude, long endurance (HALE) to be used to conduct research and surveillance flying at 20,000 m (65,000 ft) for up to four days at a time.[59] Fuel cells are also being used to provide auxiliary power for aircraft, replacing fossil fuel generators that were previously used to start the engines and power on board electrical needs.[59] Fuel cells can help airplanes reduce CO2 and other pollutant emissions and noise.


The Hydra fuel cell boat.

The world's first Fuel Cell Boat [60] Iceland has committed to converting its vast fishing fleet to use fuel cells to provide auxiliary power by 2015 and, eventually, to provide primary power in its boats. Amsterdam recently introduced its first fuel cell powered boat that ferries people around the city's famous and beautiful canals.[61]


The only submersible applications of fuel cells are the Type 212 submarines of the German and Italian navies. "[62] Each Type 212 contains nine PEM fuel cells, spread throughout the ship, providing between 30 kW and 50 kW each of electrical power. The fuel cells provide distinct advantages over traditional diesel-electric power systems due to more efficient use of oxygen and quieter operation.[63] This allows the Type 212 to remain submerged longer and makes them more difficult to detect. Fuel cell powered submarines are also easier to design, manufacture, and maintain than nuclear-powered submarines.[64]


In March 2015, China South Rail Corporation (CSR) demonstrated the world's first hydrogen fuel cell-powered tramcar at an assembly facility in Qingdao. The chief engineer of the CSR subsidiary CSR Sifang Co Ltd., Liang Jianying, said that the company is studying how to reduce the running costs of the tram.[65] A total of 83 miles of tracks for the new vehicle have been built in seven Chinese cities. China plans to spend 200 billion yuan ($32 billion) over the next five years to increase tram tracks to more than 1,200 miles.[66]

Hydrogen infrastructure

Eberle and Rittmar von Helmolt stated in 2010 that challenges remain before fuel cell cars can become competitive with other technologies and cite the lack of an extensive hydrogen infrastructure in the U.S.:[67] In 2013, The New York Times stated that there are only 10 publicly accessible hydrogen filling stations in the U.S., eight of which are in Southern California.[68] The same year, however, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 8, a bill to fund $20 million a year for 10 years to build up to 100 stations.[69] In May 2014 the California Energy Commission funded $46.6 million to build 28 stations.[70]

In 2014, Japan got its first commercial hydrogen fueling station, and 40 new stations are planned in that country.[71] 50 are planned in Germany.[72]

Codes and standards

Fuel cell vehicle is a classification in FC Hydrogen codes and standards and fuel cell codes and standards[73] other main standards are Stationary fuel cell applications and Portable fuel cell applications.

USA programs

In 2003 US President George Bush proposed the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI). The HFI aimed to further develop hydrogen fuel cells and infrastructure technologies to accelerate the commercial introduction of fuel cell vehicles. By 2008, the U.S. had contributed 1 billion dollars to this project.[74] In 2009, Steven Chu, then the US Secretary of Energy, asserted that hydrogen vehicles "will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years".[75][76] In 2012, however, Chu stated that he saw fuel cell cars as more economically feasible as natural gas prices had fallen and hydrogen reforming technologies had improved.[77][78] In June 2013 the California Energy Commission granted $18.7M for hydrogen fueling stations.[79] In 2013 Governor Brown signed AB 8, a bill to fund $20 million a year for 10 years for up to 100 stations.[69] In 2013 the US DOE announced up to $4 million planned for "continued development of advanced hydrogen storage systems".[80] On May 13, 2013 the Energy Department launched H2USA, which is focused on advancing hydrogen infrastructure in the US.[81]

Efficiency and cost

By 2010, advancements in fuel cell technology had reduced the size, weight and cost of fuel cell electric vehicles.[82] In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimated that the cost of automobile fuel cells had fallen 80% since 2002 and that such fuel cells could potentially be manufactured for $51/kW, assuming high-volume manufacturing cost savings.[83] Fuel cell electric vehicles have been produced with "a driving range of more than 250 miles between refueling".[83] They can be refueled in less than 5 minutes.[84] Deployed fuel cell buses have a 40% higher fuel economy than diesel buses.[82] EERE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program claims that, as of 2011, fuel cells achieved a 42 to 53% fuel cell electric vehicle efficiency at full power,[82] and a durability of over 75,000 miles with less than 10% voltage degradation, double that achieved in 2006.[83] In 2012, Lux Research, Inc. issued a report that concluded that "Capital cost ... will limit adoption to a mere 5.9 GW" by 2030, providing "a nearly insurmountable barrier to adoption, except in niche applications". Lux's analysis concluded that by 2030, PEM stationary fuel cell applications will reach $1 billion, while the vehicle market, including fuel cell forklifts, will reach a total of $2 billion.[85]

Well-to-Wheels analysis

In a 2005 Well-to-Wheels analysis, the DOE estimated that fuel cell electric vehicles using hydrogen produced from natural gas would result in emissions of approximately 55% of the CO2 per mile of internal combustion engine vehicles and have approximately 25% less emissions than hybrid vehicles.[86] In 2006, Ulf Bossel stated that the large amount of energy required to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds (water, natural gas, biomass), package the light gas by compression or liquefaction, transfer the energy carrier to the user, plus the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity with fuel cells, leaves around 25% for practical use."[87] Richard Gilbert, co-author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight without Oil (2010), comments, however, that producing hydrogen gas ends up using some of the energy it creates. Then, energy is taken up by converting the hydrogen back into electricity within fuel cells. "'This means that only a quarter of the initially available energy reaches the electric motor' ... Such losses in conversion don't stack up well against, for instance, recharging an electric vehicle (EV) like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt from a wall socket".[88][89] A 2010 Well-to-wheels analysis of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles report from Argonne National Laboratory states that renewable H2 pathways offer much larger green house gas benefits.[90] This result has recently been confirmed.[91] In 2010 a US DOE Well-to-Wheels publication assumed that the efficiency of the single step of compressing hydrogen to 6,250 psi (43.1 MPa) at the refueling station is 94%.[92]


2008 - Professor Jeremy P. Meyers, in the Electrochemical Society journal Interface wrote, "While fuel cells are efficient relative to combustion engines, they are not as efficient as batteries, due primarily to the inefficiency of the oxygen reduction reaction. ... [T]hey make the most sense for operation disconnected from the grid, or when fuel can be provided continuously. For applications that require frequent and relatively rapid start-ups ... where zero emissions are a requirement, as in enclosed spaces such as warehouses, and where hydrogen is considered an acceptable reactant, a [PEM fuel cell] is becoming an increasingly attractive choice [if exchanging batteries is inconvenient]". The practical cost of fuel cells for cars will remain high, however, until production volumes incorporate economies of scale and a well-developed supply chain. Until then, costs are roughly one order of magnitude higher than DOE targets.[93]

In 2008, Wired News reported that "experts say it will be 40 years or more before hydrogen has any meaningful impact on gasoline consumption or global warming, and we can't afford to wait that long. In the meantime, fuel cells are diverting resources from more immediate solutions."[94] The Economist magazine, in 2008, quoted Robert Zubrin, the author of Energy Victory, as saying: "Hydrogen is 'just about the worst possible vehicle fuel'".[95] The magazine noted that most hydrogen is produced through steam reformation, which creates at least as much emission of carbon per mile as some of today's gasoline cars. On the other hand, if the hydrogen could be produced using renewable energy, "it would surely be easier simply to use this energy to charge the batteries of all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles."[95] The Los Angeles Times wrote in 2009, "Any way you look at it, hydrogen is a lousy way to move cars."[96] The Washington Post asked in November 2009, "[W]hy would you want to store energy in the form of hydrogen and then use that hydrogen to produce electricity for a motor, when electrical energy is already waiting to be sucked out of sockets all over America and stored in auto batteries...?"[97]

The Motley Fool stated in 2013 that "there are still cost-prohibitive obstacles [for hydrogen cars] relating to transportation, storage, and, most importantly, production."[98] The New York Times noted that there are only 10 publicly accessible hydrogen filling stations in the U.S.[68] Volkswagen's Rudolf Krebs said in 2013 that "no matter how excellent you make the cars themselves, the laws of physics hinder their overall efficiency. The most efficient way to convert energy to mobility is electricity." He elaborated: "Hydrogen mobility only makes sense if you use green energy", but ... you need to convert it first into hydrogen "with low efficiencies" where "you lose about 40 percent of the initial energy". You then must compress the hydrogen and store it under high pressure in tanks, which uses more energy. "And then you have to convert the hydrogen back to electricity in a fuel cell with another efficiency loss". Krebs continued: "in the end, from your original 100 percent of electric energy, you end up with 30 to 40 percent."[99]

In 2014, journalist Julian Cox presented an analysis that challenged this assumption, calculating the efficiency of hydrogen to be only half that stated by government estimates.[100] Cox wrote in 2014 that producing hydrogen "is significantly more carbon intensive per unit of energy than coal. Mistaking fossil hydrogen from the hydraulic fracturing of shales for an environmentally sustainable energy pathway threatens to encourage energy policies that will dilute and potentially derail global efforts to head-off climate change due to the risk of diverting investment and focus from vehicle technologies that are economically compatible with renewable energy."[100] The Business Insider commented:
Pure hydrogen can be industrially derived, but it takes energy. If that energy does not come from renewable sources, then fuel-cell cars are not as clean as they seem. ... Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure. Gas stations need to invest in the ability to refuel hydrogen tanks before FCEVs become practical, and it's unlikely many will do that while there are so few customers on the road today. ... Compounding the lack of infrastructure is the high cost of the technology. Fuel cells are "still very, very expensive".[101]

In 2014, climate blogger and former Dept. of Energy official Joseph Romm devoted three articles to critiques of hydrogen vehicles. He stated that FCVs still have not overcome the following issues: high cost of the vehicles, high fueling cost, and a lack of fuel-delivery infrastructure. "It would take several miracles to overcome all of those problems simultaneously in the coming decades."[102] Most importantly, he said, "FCVs aren't green" because of escaping methane during natural gas extraction and when hydrogen is produced, as 95% of it is, using the steam reforming process. He concluded that renewable energy cannot economically be used to make hydrogen for an FCV fleet "either now or in the future."[103] GreenTech Media's analyst reached similar conclusions in 2014.[104]

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  104. ^ Hunt, Tam. "Should California Reconsider Its Policy Support for Fuel-Cell Vehicles?", GreenTech Media, July 10, 2014


Carr. "The power and the glory: A special report on the future of energy", page 11. The Economist, 2008.

External links

  • 2005 - Fueva Europa
  • Heetebrij, Jan. "A vision on a sustainable electric society supported by Electric Vehicles", Olino Renewable Energy, June 5, 2009
  • Ulrich Hottelet: State funding for hybrid dreams, The Asia Pacific Times, October 2009
  • Transport Action Plan: Urban Electric Mobility Initiative, United Nations, Climate Summit 2014, September 2014
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