Fuel Cell Vehicles: All you need to know
Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) have recently gained popularity amongst automotive enthusiasts after the launch of Toyota Mirai’s updated version in 2020. With technological advancements in the fuel cell area, the FCV cost has come down significantly. FCVs are also on the same path of that as Electric Vehicles, but are FCVs going to be the next EVs of the world? we will have to wait and watch what carmakers are up to and how soon they are going to bring this technology to the affordable segment. Let’s find out what FCVs are and what is behind this Fuel Cell Technology.
What is a Fuel Cell?
A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts chemical energy from the fuel into electricity with the help of oxidizing agents like oxygen. Here the cleanest fuel that can be used is hydrogen or H2. Fuel cells have multiple applications however in vehicles, this generated electricity is then given to electric motors to move the vehicle. The vehicles operating on fuel cells are known as fuel cell vehicles (FCV) or fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). They are also commonly known as hydrogen vehicles.
A typical Fuel cell consists of an anode and a cathode similar to an electric cell. Hygrogen is supplied to this anode as fuel and purified air is fed to the cathode. There is a catalyst present inside the cell which separated hydrogen molecules into protons and electrons with water and heat as byproducts. These electrons go through an external circuit resulting in the flow of electricity.
How Does Fuel Cell Vehicle Operate?
An FCV is typically a combination of BEV + Fuel Cells + Hydrogen Tank. It has a main battery to store current generated by the Fuel cell system, it also acts as an auxiliary battery to operate other ECUs. In addition, FCV will have a water and heat management system to take care of water waste generated during the process.
There could be multiple modes of operations for A Fuel Cell + Battery system.
- Battery Only Mode:
- Where the vehicle will draw power directly from the battery to operate instantaneously typically during the startup.
- Fuel Cell Mode:
- Power is given to the motor from the fuel cells directly.
- Fuel Cell + Battery Mode:
- In certain scenarios where there is need of a power boost, additional power is drawn from the battery along with the fuel cell power.
- Braking or Deceleration:
- This is similar to regenerative braking that exists in a couple of electric vehicles as well, where kinetic energy is stored back in the drive battery.
High pressure is needed for hydrogen refuelling, and compressors are used to reduce the amount of gaseous hydrogen. These refuelling stations are high-tech, compressed Hydrogen Surface Vehicle Fuelling Connection Devices are used to make sure the nozzle is connected without any leak. They often use some sort of communication to exchange information on pressure, temperature, capacity, station information etc. The temperature of the hydrogen is cooled down to about -40° Celsius by coolers before it reaches the nozzle, this is done because when temperature increases, hydrogen expands and it will start losing pressure.
Small passenger vehicles require 700bar pressure whereas trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles need 350bar pressure.
FCVs in comparison with others
FCVs have a typical fuel efficiency of around 40-50%, as there are multiple stages involved in energy conversion. On the other hand, BEVs have around 75% efficiency and ICE are 20% efficient.
|Comparison||Fuel Cell Vehicles||Electric Vehicles||Hybrid |
|IC Engine Vehicles|
|Fuel Used||Hydrogen||Electricity||Gasoline + Electricity||Gasoline|
|Refuelling Time||3-4 minutes||~30 min to 15 hr||2-3 minutes + |
|Estimated Range*||500+ km||300-400 km||700+ km||700+ km|
|Fuel Efficiency||high||very high||moderate||very low|
|Emission||steam/water||none||CO2, CO, NOx||CO2, CO, NOx|
|Price Range||~$50,000 onwards||$30,000 onwards||$20,000 |
For the same distance range, H2 requires less space and it weighs less compared to batteries.
In the year 2020, the FCV market was valued at around $2 billion with a projected market value of ~ $10 billion by 2026. We can expect this market to grow at a CAGR of around 40%.
OEMs are currently focusing on launching new models in Bus segments which are supported by respective govt policies. There is no major market in LCV and MDCV segment as they will be dominated by EVs only going ahead. There are developments of FCVs in specific areas like garbage trucks, concrete mixers, mobile commercial and street sweeper trucks etc.
A couple of carmakers have introduced their FCV products to the world. Toyota’s Mirai is already available for purchase, while Hyundai has two products planned the Nexo and the N Vision 74.
Given the future prospect and advancements in fuel cell technologies, it would be unfair to say that FCVs don’t have a future. The ultimate adoption of this technology will happen only when govt supports carmakers by building infrastructure and policies around the usage of hydrogen as a fuel for automotive applications.