Fuel cell: A Basic Overview

Fuel cell: A Basic Overview
Long race is being run among researchers and developers to find new or alternative fuel which are sustainable and safe to use. More than a dozen alternative fuels are in production or under development for use in alternative fuel vehicles. For example you must have heard of biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, propane, natural gas, etc. You might have also come across a word blue fuel in recent news articles or on the internet. It has created a hype not only in transportation technology but also in the share market as it is seen as the strongest competition to Tesla and its competitors in the battery-powered electric vehicle market

Fuel cell definition and history

Let me first tell you what fuel cell is in simple words “A fuel cell is a device that converts chemical potential energy (energy stored in molecular bonds) into electrical energy. If we look back into the history of fuel cell we will find its not a recent discovery, it goes back to 1838 when Sir William Grove invented the first fuel cell. We know that by the process called electrolysis –  electricity is used to split the hydrogen and oxygen in water. His theory was that if you reverse that process you can generate electricity by recombining hydrogen and oxygen, which he proved 50 years later with something he called a gas voltaic battery and more than a century later commercial use fuel started after the invention of the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell by Francis Thomas Bacon in 1932. [source]

Now let’s get back to our blue fuel what is it and why is it call blue fuel?

The fuel here is hydrogen,  specifically, “blue” hydrogen. What makes the “blue” version different than regular hydrogen is that it’s produced by a carbon-neutral process that uses natural gas alongside carbon capture and storage.
Hydrogen is a rising star. Versatile and environmentally friendly, hydrogen produces no CO2 when combusted, only water and heat. It can be used to decarbonize electricity, heating, transport, and industry. A clean energy vector, hydrogen is easily stored, transported, and blended with current fuels.
Hydrogen fuel isn’t the fuel of the future. It’s already here![source]
Fuel cells could power our cars, with hydrogen replacing the petroleum fuel that is used in most vehicles today. Fuel cells have many benefits over conventional combustion-based technologies currently used in many power plants and cars.
Emissions of a car powered by the ‘blue fuel’ are five times less harmful than those of a car equipped with a gasoline engine.
Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) combine hydrogen stored in a tank with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, with water vapor as the by-product.
fuel cell vehicles don’t need to be plugged in, and current models all exceed 300 miles of range on a full tank. They’re filled up with a nozzle almost as quickly as traditional gas and diesel vehicles.

Commercial success

Hydrogen is more established in the commercial market. Many companies such as Toyota, Honda, Hyundai have already started selling vehicles run by fuel cells.
Toyota the world’s second-largest automaker has launched Its Mirai – a hydrogen fuel cell family car in 2015 got around 5,000 buyers.
Honda also has currently nearly 1,100 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vehicles on the road in the U.S.
Honda and Toyota have teamed up with a subsidiary of Shell Oil to build new hydrogen fueling stations in California.
They are also teaming up with the government in Quebec to build hydrogen infrastructure in Montreal this year, and even oil-rich Saudi Arabia is getting its first station.
Hyundai is expecting sale increase, they currently has 220 vehicles on road in the U.S.
The company just introduced the Nexo to the U.S. The EPA rates the midsize crossover’s range up to 380 miles, longer than any battery-powered EV on the market.
The Budweiser company Anheuser-Busch wants to be completely emission-free And it is using “Blue Gas” to make that change possible. They recently bought 800 tractor-trailers fueled by “Blue Gas.
GM has a joint venture with Honda to produce fuel cell stacks at a Michigan plant. In 2017 both companies said the Michigan plant where the fuel stacks are being made could produce vehicles starting in 2020.

Musk on hydrogen “mind-bogglingly stupid”

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has dismissed hydrogen fuel cells as “mind-bogglingly stupid,”. He also called them “fool cells,” a “load of rubbish,” and told Tesla shareholders at an annual meeting years ago that “success is simply not possible.”
The auto industry as a whole has not embraced Musk’s battery-or-bust vision of the future.
The biggest problem, however, may be cost.
The average price for hydrogen fuel in California is about $16/kg
Kelley Blue Book estimates annual fuel costs for the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, and Hyundai Nexo at $4,495, which is three to four times the cost of gas-powered alternatives.
Another major problem is that these cars remain expensive. Nexo, for instance, is the most expensive Hyundai on sale in the U.S., with a starting price of $59,345
The Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity fuel cell models have a similar MSRP in the $59,000 range.
As with any new technology, fuel cell costs should come down if the market grows and achieves economies of scale in manufacturing and infrastructure.
One of the major problem is one can’t sell vehicles without infrastructure.
This will not happen on its own, It will need government support. According to IEA more than 70% of all investments in the energy transition will either come directly by governments, or will be driven by government policy. Hence, the government must take the lead for an effective and successful energy transition.[source]

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