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Hydrogen Vehicles

Hydrogen can be used to fuel internal combustion engines (ICEs) and fuel cells, both of which can power low or zero-emissions vehicles. However, no light-duty hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are commercially available to consumers today. Test vehicles are available in limited numbers to select organizations with access to hydrogen fueling stations in California - currently, there are close to 40 research, public and private hydrogen fueling stations. But, while fuel cell vehicles are not yet commercially viable, they do still offer a promising long term solution.  Additionally, major auto original equipment manufacturers are offering production vehicles to the public in certain markets starting in 2015 and 2016.

Hydrogen Powered Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Vehicles

Traditional ICEs can be modified to run on hydrogen fuel. These engines have the capability to run on pure hydrogen or a blend of hydrogen and compressed natural gas (CNG). Hydrogen-powered ICEs have many operating advantages. They perform well under all weather conditions, require no warm-up, have no cold-start issues (even at subzero temperatures), and are highly fuel efficient - up to 25% better than conventional spark-ignition engines. Hydrogen-powered ICE vehicles are less efficient then fuel-cell powered vehicles, but are considered to be an important technology on the path to the hydrogen economy. Hydrogen ICE vehicles provide a good transition to fuel cells, spurring infrastructure development while producing fewer smog and greenhouse gas emissions than their gasoline counterparts. Fact Sheet

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

Fuel cells were invented in 1839 and have played a significant role in power equipment all over the globe, most notably in the NASA Space Program. Theoretically, Hydrogen fuel-cell (HFC) vehicles are the most effective for delivering motive power while producing zero emissions. Fuel-cell vehicles powered with pure hydrogen use about 40 to 60 percent of hydrogen's potential energy, while ICE vehicles only use 20 percent of the energy available in gasoline. HFC are also quieter and only produce water as a bio-product. Additionally, HFCs can be built to practically any size, and can be designed in a variety of shapes. This means that they have a wide range of fueling applications, and for vehicle applications the traditional shape can be adapted and advanced in the future.

Today, there are several hundred vehicles around the world that utilize HFC technology. However, these vehicles are primarily for test and demo purposes, as the current cost is prohibitive for the mass market – components and fuel are costly. In addition to cost, fuel storage and infrastructure are barriers to HFC vehicles deployment. However, several auto manufacturers have been investing in HFC Reseach and Development, and will be offering production vehicles to the public in certain markets starting in 2015 and 2016.


How do Fuel Cells Work?

Through an electrochemical reaction, fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into water to produce electricity. The production of electricity using fuel cells takes place without combustion or pollution and leaves only two byproducts, heat and water. This system is similar to a battery, which also uses electrochemical reactions. However, in a battery all of the chemical components are stored inside, which means overtime you must recharge or replace it. A fuel cell utilizes an outside chemical source, hydrogen fuel, and therefore will continue to produce energy as long as it is fueled.

There are several types of fuel cells. The most common type for vehicles is the polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell, due to its high power density and a relatively low operating temperature. This fuel cell uses an anode, cathode, PEM and catalysts:

1. At the anode, H2 molecules are split by a catalyst into two H+ ions (cation) and two electrons.

2. At the cathode, O2 molecules are split by a catalyst creating two O- ions (anion)

3. The strong negative charge of the O- ions attracts the H+ through the PEM.

4. The electrons cannot pass through the PEM and are instead conducted through an external circuit, creating the energy that powers the system.

5. The external circuit ends at the cathode, where O- ions, H+ ions, and electrons combine to form water (H2O)

This reaction in a single fuel cell produces about 0.7 volts. To increase voltage, several fuel cells can be combined, forming a “stack.” This configuration can have stability issues that decrease the effectiveness of fuel cell membranes and electrodes.

Hydrogen Fueling Stations

Utah Fueling Stations - Currently there are no hydrogen fueling stations in the State of Utah
National Fueling Stations

Additional Resources

UCCC Hydrogen Fuel Page
Alternative Fuels Data Center - Hydrogen Vehicles
U.S. Dept. of Energy - EERE - Hydrogen Powered ICE
U.S. Dept. of Energy - EERE - Fuel Cell Technology
FuelEconomy.Gov - Fuel Cells
Drive Clean
Idaho National Lab Hydrogen ICE
Smithsonian Fuel Cell Basics

Resources referenced on this website are presented for informational purposes only,
UCCC does not necessarily recommend or endorse these entities.