Clean Tech 101

Fuel Cell Vehicles - What is a Fuel Cell Vehicle and How Does a Fuel Cell Vehicle Work

Full cell vehicles are two to three times more efficient than conventional vehicles. The propulsion system of a fuel cell vehicle is completely different to conventional vehicles, and unlike conventional vehicles, fuel cell vehicles produces no harmful exhaust emissions. Fuel cell vehicles are fueled with hydrogen and the only emission from a fuel cell vehicle is water. Fuel cell vehicles are still at an early stage of development.

Fuel Cell - The Basics of Fuel Cell

Fuel cells harness chemical energies of oxygen and hydrogen to produce electricity without the need of combustion and generating no pollution. The only byproducts of a fuel cell are heat and pure water.

Cars, trucks and buses can be powered by a fuel cell. Fuel cell powered vehicles will be more energy efficient and cleaner than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.

How Does a Fuel Cell Work?

Fuel cell generates electricity through an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. A hydrogen-containing fuel and air are used as sources of hydrogen and oxygen.

There are many components in a fuel cell power system. The heart of the fuel cell is the stack. The stack is composed of many thin and flat cells sandwiched together. There are a number of different materials in each cell. Layers referred to as catalysts, are responsible for initiating the chemical reaction which produces electricity.

Hydrogen from a hydrogen-containing fuel moves through the cell and come across the first catalyst layer. The release of protons and electrons in the catalyst produces electrical current which powers the vehicle. The protons then travels through the electrolyte to the second catalyst layer where the hydrogen reacts with oxygen from air to generate water. The water produced can be gathered and reused within the system. However, a tiny amount is released as water vapor through the exhaust system of the vehicle. Each cell produces electricity, and the output of all the cells is combined to power the vehicle.

Comparison between a Combustion Engine and a Fuel Cell

Less than 20% of the energy in gasoline is converted into power in the internal combustion engines of vehicles today. On the other hand, fuel cells can capture up to 60% or more of the fuel’s energy to power a vehicle.

The other advantage of fuel cell is that it creates zero emissions and the only emission from fuel cell vehicle powered using hydrogen is water vapor. Fuel cells can also run on any hydrogen-rich gas or liquid as long as the hydrogen-rich gas or liquid is suitable for process.

Source: AZoCleantech
Last update: 9th February 2008

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