Editor’s note: The fuel cells intended for use in vehicles will most likely run on pure hydrogen gas generated by electrically separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. Ideally, power for that task will come from wind-generated power, and hence our interest in the development of fuel cells. This article comes from the Department of Energy.
With fuel cell electric vehicles coming to the market, many consumers think that fuel cells are only used in cars. Think again.
Fuel cells can be scaled to meet a range of different energy conversion or power needs. From primary stationary power and combined heat and power applications to powering cell phones and laptops, fuel cells are proving to be a versatile technology. Here are three emerging technologies already reaping the benefits of fuel cells.
Cargo delivery trucks
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working with the United Parcel Service and FedEx’s vehicle manufacturers to demonstrate the benefits of fuel cell-battery electric cargo delivery trucks. By combining battery electric vehicles with a fuel cell, medium-duty trucks can effectively double the number of miles it can cover. With a hybrid fuel cell battery system, the trucks are powered primarily by the fuel cell, but during peak load operations have added battery power. Data and feedback from the project will be collected and analyzed by Argonne National Laboratory. This data will be used to direct additional early stage research and development. The first trucks are expected to be delivered this summer in New York.
Power generators for ships
DOE recently released the results of a maritime fuel cell project—the first ever hydrogen fuel cell power generator used onboard a ship. The100-kilowattt generator, with 72 kilograms of hydrogen storage, was designed and built with safety and regulatory reviews by the Hydrogen Safety Panel, U.S. Coast Guard, and the American Bureau of Shipping. Project partners operated the ship’s generator for 10 months, powering refrigerated containers in Honolulu, Hawaii. The project showed that it is possible to increase energy efficiency of the ship by up to 30% at part load and eliminate emissions through the use of hydrogen fuel cells. The project also identified paths forward to wider adoption of the technology in the maritime sector.
Hydrogen infrastructure is the most critical barrier to the use of fuel cell vehicles. There are more than 25 existing hydrogen stations in California with plans for 100 in the works. And, while they’re just starting in the Northeast, one attractive option for consumers could be home refueling for its fast, clean and convenient service.
Winner of DOE’s $1 million H2 Refuel H-Prize competition, SimpleFuel offers a home-scale refueling appliance that could provide a 1-kilogram fill to a fuel cell vehicle in about 15 minutes or less, allowing the vehicle to travel more than 300 miles. It uses hydrogen produced from water electrolysis and has a cost-effective design that minimizes the physical footprint of the system. Infrastructure like this can help pave the way for mainstream hydrogen vehicle infrastructure in the future.