How Do Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Work?
Vehicles with fuel cells are an eco-friendly alternative to gas fueled vehicles, but how do they work? Unlike other electric cars, fuel cell electric vehicles produce their own electricity using oxygen and hydrogen. The only emission produced is water vapor, making this method of fueling vehicles very efficient and clean.
There are three main parts to the fuel cell electric vehicle, the fuel cells, the control unit, and the battery.
Each of these vehicles has its own fuel cell, which converts hydrogen and oxygen into water and electricity to power the vehicle. This is thanks to the unique design of the fuel cell. Let’s take a closer look at how these are designed.
There are three main sections to the fuel cell. One side holds hydrogen while the other side takes in oxygen. The center section is where the “waste” product of water is formed and this is eliminated in the form of water vapor.
The fuel cell has a membrane, which is coated with a special catalyst that can split hydrogen molecules. As soon as the hydrogen moves through the catalyst, they break into hydrogen ions and electrons. These are then filtered by the membrane, which allows the ions to pass, but forces the electrons to go through an electrical circuit.
On the other side of the membrane, the ions, electrons, and regular oxygen from the air mix together and form water. The entire process produces electricity without any harmful emissions, as it just turns into water at the other end of the process.
Sometimes, a vehicle needs an extra boost of power and in a fuel cell vehicle, this is provided by the extra battery. These batteries are charged via brake power and whenever the fuel cells produce an excess of power. Since the fuel cells produce a steady output of energy, it’s not always needed now and can be routed through the battery to charge it.
There may be one or more batteries in the vehicle, depending on how much extra power it may require.
The control unit ensures everything runs smoothly between battery and fuel cells. It helps regulate where power goes and how much is used in the propulsion of the vehicle.
The main job of the control unit is to maximize the use of energy and ensure that every bit is used efficiently. It’s due to this unit that vehicles with fuel cells can rival any diesel-powered vehicle in power and usability.
While hydrogen fuel cells are extremely efficient and have a fuel economy of roughly double a gasoline vehicle, they do have a downside. Despite the fact that hydrogen is readily available everywhere, it’s expensive to transport and that means it’s quite expensive. There’s also the issue of finding a hydrogen fueling station, since there aren’t enough vehicles using fuel cells to warrant the building of these structures.
In the future, you can expect to see more zero emissions vehicles as the problems are sorted out. It’s a cleaner way to drive and one that should certainly become more accessible in years to come.