Hydrogen Fuel Cell in Automobiles
Panchal Girishkumar R.*§, Mehta Het D. § and Panchal Vinay A. §
Corresponding Author, Email Id: email@example.com
Mechanical Engineering Department, K. J. Somaiya Polytechnic, Vidyavihar, Mumbai-400 077
Abstract: This paper describes about the technique of hydrogen fuel cells adopted in automobiles and storage technologies for
hydrogen and thus stepping to the way of green technology with economic power generation. The purpose of this paper is to
widespread the knowledge of hydrogen fuel cells which is taking its new place in the field of automobile engineering as a green
fuel and storage techniques which is major limiting factor. Few patents and papers are available on the subject under study as
very few people are aware about it.
Keywords: Hydrogen fuel cells, green fuel, green technology.
Introduction: Both from the point of view of global
warming and from that of the inevitable exhaustion
of Earth's oil reserves; it has become highly desirable
to develop an alternative energy source for
automobiles. Since the development of the hydrogen
fuel cell, which is fueled by hydrogen and oxygen
(air) and produces only water, hydrogen has
generally been seen to be the most promising
approach. However, although the development of
Fig No.1 Fuel Cell
hydrogen fuel cell technology appears to be
progressing smoothly towards eventual commercial
exploitation, a viable method for storing hydrogen on board a vehicle is still to be established. (Ross, 2006)
Research methodology: The research methodology requires gathering relevant data from the specified
documents and compiling information in order to analyze the matter. I hope to shed the light on the
following questions through my research: how are automobiles operated with hydrogen fuel cells? What
actually takes place in the working of fuel cell? What are the specifications of hydrogen fuel cell? How it
is better than gasoline and electrically operated vehicles? How to store hydrogen under specific conditions?
3. Automobiles Operated With Fuel Cell:
a) Fuel cells: A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy into electrical energy, water and heat
through chemical reactions.
b) Hydrogen tank: A cylinder tank used for storing hydrogen in a car.
c) Traction inverter module: The traction inverter module is used to convert supplied energy as efficiently as
possible and make it available to the drive motors in a suitable way. ( http://www.voith.com/en/productsservices/power-transmission/traction-inverter-10375.html)
d) Turbo compressor: A dynamic-type compressor is used for the compression and injection of gases
e) Transaxle: An automotive part that combines the transmission and the differential and is used on vehicles
with front-wheel drive. (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Transaxles)
How to use hydrogen to fuel a car?
Fig No.2 Actual Layout Of Hydrogen Car
Hydrogen gas from the hydrogen storage tank is supplied to the fuel cell and from the other side
atmospheric air is also supplied in it by using turbo compressor.
Reaction of oxygen from the air and hydrogen takes place in fuel cell which results in the generation of
electricity that is sent to the traction inverter module.
The traction inverter module plays an important role of converting the electricity and using it for driving
the electric motor which ultimately imparts rotary motion to the wheel.
What actually takes place in fuel cell?
Pressurized hydrogen gas (H2) enters cell on anode side.
Gas is forced through catalyst by pressure.
When H2 molecule comes contacts platinum catalyst, it splits
into two H+ ions and two electrons (e-).
Electrons are conducted through the anode which makes their
way through the external circuit (doing useful work such as
turning a motor) and return to the cathode side of the fuel cell.
On the cathode side, oxygen gas (O2) is forced through the
catalyst forms two oxygen atoms, each with a strong negative
Negative charge attracts the two H+ ions through the membrane,
combine with an oxygen atom and two electrons from the
external circuit to form a water molecule (H2O).
Fig No.3 Working Of Fuel Cell
Anode reaction: H2 = 2H+ + 2eCathode reaction: O2 + 2H+ = 2H2O
Heat and electrical energy is formed after the fusion of electrons. Therefore, electrical energy is used to drive the
vehicle and we get water (H2O) as our exhaust. The heat energy converts water into water vapor and thus our
exhaust from the vehicle is in the form of water vapor which ultimately has no effect to the environment.
Thus, no pollution is created using this technology.
Parts of fuel cell:
• Negative post of the fuel cell.
• Conducts the electrons that are freed from the hydrogen molecules so that they can be used in an
• Etched channels disperse hydrogen gas over the surface of catalyst.
• Positive post of the fuel cell
• Etched channels distribute oxygen to the surface of the catalyst.
• Conducts electrons back from the external circuit to the catalyst
• Recombine with the hydrogen ions and oxygen to form water.
• Proton exchange membrane.
• Specially treated material, only conducts positively charged ions.
• Membrane blocks electrons.
• Special material that facilitates reaction of oxygen and hydrogen
• Usually platinum powder very thinly coated onto carbon paper or cloth.
• Rough & porous maximizes surface area exposed to hydrogen or oxygen
• The platinum-coated side of the catalyst faces the PEM.
Types of fuel cells:
Alkaline fuel cell (AFC)
This is one of the oldest designs. It has been used in the U.S. space program since the 1960s. The AFC is very
susceptible to contamination, so it requires pure hydrogen and oxygen. It is also very expensive, so this type of fuel
cell is unlikely to be commercialized.
Phosphoric-acid fuel cell (PAFC)
The phosphoric-acid fuel cell has potential for use in small stationary power-generation systems. It operates at a
higher temperature than PEM fuel cells, so it has a longer warm-up time. This makes it unsuitable for use in cars.
Solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC)
These fuel cells are best suited for large-scale stationary power generators that could provide electricity for factories
or towns. This type of fuel cell operates at very high temperatures (around 1,832 F, 1,000 C). This high temperature
makes reliability a problem, but it also has an advantage: The steam produced by the fuel cell can be channeled into
turbines to generate more electricity. This improves the overall efficiency of the system.
Proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC)
In the polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell, also known as a
proton-exchange membrane cell, a catalyst in the anode separates
hydrogen atoms into protons and electrons. The membrane in the center
transports the protons to the cathode, leaving the electrons behind. The
electrons flow through a circuit to the cathode, forming an electric
current to do useful work. In the cathode, another catalyst helps the
electrons, hydrogen nuclei and oxygen from the air recombine. When the
input is pure hydrogen, the exhaust consists of water vapor. In fuel cells
using hydrocarbon fuels the exhaust is water and carbon dioxide.
Fig No. 4 PEM Cell
Auto Power Efficiency Comparison:
Fig No.4 Efficiency vs. Range
Comparison based on Calorific Value:
Higher calorific value: 141,790 kJ/kg
Lower calorific value: 121,000 kJ/kg
Calorific value: 48,000 kJ/kg
Heat generated from the hydrogen is more than that of petrol or other gasoline fuels as the calorific value of
hydrogen is more. Thus, the power developed is more in vehicles running on hydrogen fuel cells.
Hydrogen Storage Technologies
In the development of fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen storage is “the biggest remaining research problem”
according to the January 2003 Office of Technology Policy report, Fuel Cell Vehicles: z to a New Automotive
Future. Current hydrogen storage systems are inadequate to meet the needs of consumers in a fuel cell vehicle.
The OTP report continues, “Hydrogen‟s low energy-density makes it difficult to store enough on board a
vehicle to achieve sufficient vehicle range without the storage container being too large or too heavy.”
Existing and proposed technologies for hydrogen storage include:
a) Physical storage: pressurized tanks for gaseous hydrogen and
pressurized cryo-tanks for liquid hydrogen;
b) Reversible hydrogen uptake in various metal-based compounds
including hydrides, nitrides, and imides; chemical storage in
irreversible hydrogen carriers such as methanol;
c) Cryo-adsorption with activated carbon as the most common
d) Advanced carbon materials absorption, including carbon nano
tubes, alkali-doped carbon nano tubes and graphite nano
fibers. (Craig et al., 2003)
Fig.No.5 Hydrogen Storage
Source: Craig et al., 2003
Hydrogen Fuel Storage Safety
Hydrogen has a reputation for being explosive and therefore raises concerns about the safety of carrying a
substantial quantity of H2 in a vehicle fuel tank. However, because H2 is the lightest gas, it has a tendency to
diffuse away quickly in case its container is breached and consequently may represent less of a hazard than
The simplest way to carry hydrogen fuel in a car or other vehicle is as a high-pressure gas 3-10 kpsi (21-69 MPa)
in metal or composite-reinforced (fiberglass, carbon fiber, Kevlar) tanks. This is similar to the way compressed
natural gas (CNG) vehicles operate.
The authors conclude that “hydrogen is no more or less dangerous than any other energy carrier and furthermore
that hydrogen has properties that in certain areas make it safer than other energy carriers: it is not poisonous, and
has the ability to dissipate quickly into the atmosphere because of its light weight compared to air.” (Craig et al.,
High pressure in cylinders
Sodium hydride pellets
NaBH4 solution in water
Table 1: Data for comparing the methods of storing hydrogen fuels
Volumetric mass (in kg)
efficiency,% mass H2
of H2 per litre
0.7 – 3.0
„cheap and cheerful‟
Suitable for small
Widely used for bulk
Potentially useful in wide
range of systems
Problem of disposing of
Very expensive to run
Table 2: Hydrogen storage parameters goals
System energy per unit weight for conventional
vehicles with 300 mile range
System energy per unit volume for conventional
vehicles with 300 mile range
Usable energy consumed in releasing H2
H2 release temperature
H2 ambient release temp. range
Durability (to maintain 80% capacity)
> 6 MJ/kg
> 6 MJ/kg
< 5 minutes
The hydrogen is not so readily available, however.
Hydrogen has some limitations that make it impractical for use in most applications.
a) For instance, you don't have a hydrogen pipeline coming to your house, and you can't pull up to a
hydrogen pump at your local gas station.
b) Hydrogen is difficult to store and distribute, so it would be much more convenient if fuel cells could
use fuels that are more readily available.
c) Technology is currently expensive.
Conclusion: Thus, it can be said that there will be a bright future if this hydrogen fuel cell is put up to use
in all vehicles by properly considering the safety matter first. And if this eco-friendly technology is used,
the rate of pollution is surely going to come down. It is not only eco-friendly but, also serves to be a great
fuel source. Since the conventional sources of fuel may not prove to be sufficient, there arises a need to
develop a new alternative source of energy. Although there are a few problems related with the storage of
hydrogen gas, which might be overcome as the technology develops further.
“Hydrogen holds the great promise to meet our future energy needs concerned with our environment.”
6. Future scope:
There is a lot of advancement been done by the RnD sectors and it is an on-going process of developing new
technologies, it is sure that the there will be many changes done in hydrogen fuel cells in automobiles and its
1.) The technology should be made cost effective.
2.) Developing more safety features to the onboard hydrogen tank and also at refilling stations by making the
use of „Auto-locking of supply valves by using hydrogen detector.‟
In this technique, if the hydrogen is leaked from the cylinder or supply line then hydrogen will be
detected by the sensor provided to it by sensing the tlv (threshold limit value) of hydrogen.
When the gas is detected, the supply valves from the hydrogen tank are closed. Thus, hydrogen gas
leaking is thus avoided.
3.) The other technique is to splash the water where the hydrogen gas is leaked. But for this, there will be
separate water storing facility required. Thus, hazards expected from hydrogen gas leaking are thus
This initiative, supported by legislation in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005) and the Advanced Energy
Initiative of 2006, aims to develop hydrogen, fuel cell and infrastructure technologies to make fuel-cell vehicles
practical and cost-effective by 2020. (Nice, Strickland)
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