Hydrogen powered cars trump electric cars in many areas. This is an account of how and why it is so.
Fremont, CA: There is great hope for electric vehicles, mainly due to pollutants and less noise, among many other reasons. But are there any alternatives to large batteries and long charging times? Yes, hydrogen fuel cell powered cars.
Normal fuel cell batteries are lagging behind. But experts feel that hydrogen fuel cell cars will eventually catch up. But how do they work?
It runs on a hydrogen engine, also known as the Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV), in contrast to Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV). FCEVs are powered by an electric motor, hence classified as e-cars too.
The key difference between BEV and FCEV is that hydrogen cars produce the electricity themselves, unlike a fully electric or a hybrid vehicle. They effectively have an efficient power plant of their own: the fuel cell.
How does it work?
Fuel cell technology uses a process called reverse electrolysis. Here, hydrogen reacts with oxygen. Hydrogen comes from tanks built into the vehicle, while oxygen is used out of thin air from the surroundings. There are three resultants from the reaction in such cells: (a) the electrical energy used to power the car. (b) Heat. (c) Water, that’s emitted through the exhaust in the form of vapor. These make it emission-free.
The fuel cell of a hydrogen engine takes two routes, depending on the driving situation. It either flows directly to the electric motor, powering the vehicle, or it charges the battery, storing energy needed for the engine. This battery is called ‘traction battery,’ much smaller and lighter than the normal e-car batteries, as it will be constantly recharged by the fuel cell.
Hydrogen vehicles, like other vehicles, convert the kinetic energy to electric energy and feed it back to the back-up battery.
Less engine noise, lively start, and full torque despite low speeds are great plus points that attract customers, in addition to the quick charging time via hydrogen.
Estimates point out a full hydrogen tank will last for up to 300 miles, while purely electric cars can match it only with very large batteries, increasing vehicle weight, and the charging time. FCVs are not dependent on the outside temperature and do not deteriorate in times of cold weather.
There are also minuses that come with pluses. Refueling options for hydrogen cars are sparse, as they are refueled at special fuel pumps. As 2019 ended, there were only about 40 such pumps in the U.S. and approximately 80 in Germany.
An expert from BMW says it is a “chicken and egg problem” when it comes to hydrogen fuel cell technology. This is because demand for such cars is low owing to less refueling stations, not allowing profitable mass production. Simultaneously, owing to fewer hydrogen cars on the road, operators are hesitantly in expanding their refueling station network.
Hydrogen comes as a by-product of many industrial processes, which often goes waste. This can be put to use in FCEVs by cleaning the hydrogen.
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