, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 207-214

The promise of fuel cell-based automobiles

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Abstract

Fuel cell-based automobiles have gained attention in the last few years due to growing public concern about urban air pollution and consequent environmental problems. From an analysis of the power and energy requirements of a modern car, it is estimated that a base sustainable power ofca. 50 kW supplemented with short bursts up to 80 kW will suffice in most driving requirements. The energy demand depends greatly on driving characteristics but under normal usage is expected to be 200 Wh/km. The advantages and disadvantages of candidate fuel-cell systems and various fuels are considered together with the issue of whether the fuel should be converted directly in the fuel cell or should be reformed to hydrogen onboard the vehicle. For fuel cell vehicles to compete successfully with conventional internal-combustion engine vehicles, it appears that direct conversion fuel cells using probably hydrogen, but possibly methanol, are the only realistic contenders for road transportation applications. Among the available fuel cell technologies, polymer-electrolyte fuel cells directly fueled with hydrogen appear to be the best option for powering fuel cell vehicles as there is every prospect that these will exceed the performance of the internal-combustion engine vehicles but for their first cost. A target cost of $ 50/kW would be mandatory to make polymer-electrolyte fuel cells competitive with the internal combustion engines and can only be achieved with design changes that would substantially reduce the quantity of materials used. At present, prominent car manufacturers are deploying important research and development efforts to develop fuel cell vehicles and are projecting to start production by 2005.