An overview of fuel cells in automotive applications, included fuel cell electric vehicles, buses, and material handling equipment with galleries
Imagine a car, SUV, or truck that performs like a conventional vehicle with a 300-400 mile range, a fuel tank that can be filled up in three - five minutes, and emits zero emissions except for water vapor – that’s today’s fuel cell vehicle (FCV).
Fuel cells utilize hydrogen to produce electricity through a chemical process, without combustion. Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota have leased and sold more than 6,500 FCVs in California, and many of the world’s premier automotive companies plan to produce their own FCVs in the next couple of years.
Capable of traveling 300-400 miles on a tank of hydrogen and refueling in three-five minutes, FCVs combine the emissions-free driving of an electric vehicle with the range and convenience of a traditional internal combustion engine. FCVs are up to three times more energy efficient than conventional vehicles. Hydrogen can be sourced from America’s abundant natural gas supply or renewably produced through the electrolysis of water. Having no internal moving parts, FCVs also are quiet and highly reliable.
FCVs are zero-emission vehicles – they produce no tailpipe pollution except water vapor. In addition, compared to internal combustion vehicles, FCVs greatly reduce greenhouse gas carbon emissions even when accounting for the full hydrogen fuel life cycle. When using hydrogen generated from solar or wind electrolysis, total life cycle CO2 emissions are eliminated completely.
For more information about the benefits of FCVs, please visit zeroemissions.org.
Commercially available FCV models:
Fuel Cell Buses
Several dozen fuel cell buses are operating in cities across the country, providing clean and reliable transportation alternatives for commuters. Producing no emissions, fuel cell buses are attractive options for urban areas, operating quietly and reducing maintenance costs. Fuel cell buses also demonstrate advantages operating in extreme temperatures, especially over battery-powered alternatives.
Similarly to fuel cell buses, heavy duty trucks can utilize fuel cells to reduce emissions and provide reliable vehicles for a variety of purposes. Several prototypes have been deployed at port facilities in Southern California, where they serve in short range drayage operations. Future applications for fuel cell heavy duty trucks include long haul trucking cross-country as well. Check out our In Transitions blog post on Fuel Cell-Powered Port Vehicles for more information.
Fuel cell vehicles are being deployed within larger fleets of delivery vehicles, providing clean and reliable transportation for local networks. Whether the sole power for the vehicle or in combination with batteries, fuel cells operate reliably and extend the range of the vehicle over solely battery-powered vehicles.
If you work in a warehouse, you might already be driving a fuel cell vehicle today. Forklifts and other material handling devices have proven to be an ideal market for early adopters of fuel cell powered vehicles. Many major companies are finding that fleets of fuel cell forklifts increase productivity and save money at their warehouses and distribution centers. Check out our Material Handling Fact Sheet for more information.
Unmanned Aerial and Underwater Vehicles
Several models of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or “drones”, currently utilize fuel cells for power. These provide the drones with longer flight times and quick refueling, compared to traditional battery-operated drones. While only fuel cell-powered UAVs are currently commercially available, additional research and development is being put towards underwater fuel cell drones as well. Check out our In Transitions blog post on Unmanned Aerial and Underwater Vehicles for more information.
Fuel cell trains are now operational in Germany, with travelers benefiting from the reduction in noise and air pollution from conventional diesel-powered trains. Outside of Germany, deployments of fuel cell trains are scheduled for Japan and South Korea in the future. Along with line electrification, fuel cell trains are beneficial options to reduce emissions from the transportation sector and meet growing challenges. Check out our In Transitions blog post on Hydrogen-Powered Rail Blog Post for more information.
Marine vessels of varying sizes are currently testing fuel cells in new capacities on the water. Several ferries around the world have begun hydrogen operations, while larger fuel cell models are being prototypes and examined for container shipping vessels. Vessels from large to small are looking to fuel cells to meet emissions targets and keep people and cargo moving. Check out our In Transitions blog post on Shipping Propulsion for more information.