Education FCCP: Fuel Cell technology in vehicles

Hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic system. It has only one proton and one electron. The hydrogen molecule connects two hydrogen atoms. See Figure below.

Figure: Hydrogen, the number 1 element of the periodic system

In the reaction with oxygen to water,  the chemical energy is released. The other way around, by electrolysis, using energy you can split water in hydrogen and oxygen

Figure: The green hydrogen cycle

For the transition to the green hydrogen economy, blue hydrogen is an option where  not enough green hydrogen is available. See Figure below.

Figure above shows the green hydrogen cycle which only uses green energy and emits no CO2. This should be our green future of hydrogen. However most of the hydrogen produced now uses natural gas and thus emits CO2. Blue hydrogen is the third option in which the CO2 is captured and stored underground.

Once produced, hydrogen can be stored and transported more or less similar to other gasses and as a gas can be burned for high temperature industry processes and can be converted to electrical power in for example mobility applications.

Figure: Combining blue and green hydrogen

As more and cheaper hydrogen will come available it becomes a very good alternative  for battery electric vehicles. What the future will bring is a result of a complex process where both technologies are challenging each other. It is crucial for every application to choose the best solution. Here hydrogen is favorable in case large power is needed for a long time. For example in relative long distance road transport.

Figure: The peak variability of renewable energy sources (RES) in 2015 and 2050

Figure above shows that, while increasing the share of renewable energy, also the variations in production will become larger and over a longer time scale. This means that large buffers for also a longer time scale are needed to balance the production and use of green energy.

fig 4.5

Figure: Energy buffer feasibility for handling the peak variability of renewable energy sources (RES)

Possibilities for buffering are shown in Figure 4.5. On search for a buffer that can store very much energy for a long time and can also supply high power Power 2 Gas (P2G) is the most promising solutions. And the gas here is hydrogen.

As hydrogen will become more available the price will go down which will makes in more competitive with the other energy carriers like fossil fuels and batteries.

Figure: The operation principle of the Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (Source: Nedstack)

For mobility applications fuel cell technology is used to convert the chemical energy to electrical power and heat. Also internal combustion engines have been developed with hydrogen as fuel and are still and again in development. For now this reader will focus on the main stream fuel cell technology using Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC). Figure above shows the chemical process again. For one cell with typical voltage of 0,6 V.

Figure: The components of the Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (Source: Nedstack)

The components of the cell are shown In Figure 4.7 : the electrolyte (or polymer membrane) separates Anode and Cathode. Using the flow plates hydrogen flows to the Anode and oxygen flows to the cathode.

Figure: The stack as system of fuel cells (Source: Nedstack)

To increase the voltage level we put the cells in serie: this is the stack (see Figure 4.8). More details will follow later on the FCCP fuel cell.

Figure: Hydrogen filling stations with on-site and off-site generation of hydrogen

Hydrogen filling stations can replace fossil fuels filling stations. The advantage is that filling a car takes then approximately the same time as we are used to now. Hydrogen can be transported using a tube trailer or be made on-site using green energy. See Figure above. In case a natural gas infrastructure is available this could also be used for distributing the hydrogen to the filling stations.

Figure: The road map for hydrogen in mobility applications

Following the road map for hydrogen in mobility applications, presented in Figure 4.10, it is clear that in all fields the vehicles have been introduced already. In the ambitious scenario the deployment will in most applications in the near future! Or is already there here in the North Netherlands where hydrogen busses are widely used already!

Safety (Figure below) is important using hydrogen like it is for each energy carrier.

You cannot see or smell hydrogen… and hydrogen is highly flammable, very explosive and easy to ignite. Safety awareness and action is therefore very important. Doing so hydrogen can be used in a safe way.

Figure: The hydrogen safety

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The theoretical base consists of:

  • K00: Introduction to hydrogen technology 
  • K01: Fuel cell systems  
  • K02: Fuel cell supply 
  • K03: application in mobility 
  • K04: safety hydrogen , see also V01 safety procedures 
  • K05: high voltage safety , see also V01 safety procedures 
  • K06: Fuel Cell vehicles>> K03 Integrated in K03 
  • K07: Workshop design 
  • V01: Safety procedures