Clean fuel cells could be cheap enough to replace gas engines in vehicles

Clean fuel cells could be cheap enough to replace gas engines in vehicles
Xianguo Li with a fuel cell test vehicle in his lab. Credit: UWaterloo

Advancements in zero-emission fuel cells could make the technology cheap enough to replace traditional gasoline engines in vehicles, according to researchers at the University of Waterloo.

The researchers have developed a new that lasts at least 10 times longer than current technology, an improvement that would make them economically practical, if mass-produced, to power vehicles with electricity.

"With our design approach, the cost could be comparable or even cheaper than gasoline engines," said Xianguo Li, director of the Fuel Cell and Green Energy Lab at Waterloo. "The future is very bright. This is that could boom."

Researchers initially concentrated on , which now have gas engines as well as batteries due to issues involving limited driving range and long charging times.

Existing fuel cells could theoretically replace those gas engines, which power generators to recharge batteries while hybrid vehicles are in operation, but are impractical because they are too expensive.

The researchers solved that problem with a design that makes fuel cells far more durable by delivering a constant, rather than fluctuating, amount of electricity.

Clean fuel cells could be cheap enough to replace gas engines in vehicles
Xianguo Li with a fuel cell in his lab. Credit: UWaterloo

That means the cells, which produce electricity from the chemical reaction when hydrogen and oxygen are combined to make water, can be far simpler and therefore far cheaper.

"We have found a way to lower costs and still satisfy durability and performance expectations," said Li, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering. "We're meeting economic targets while providing zero emissions for a transportation application."

Researchers hope the introduction of fuel in hybrid vehicles will lead to mass production and lower unit costs. That could pave the way for the replacement of both batteries and gas engines entirely by providing an affordable, safe, dependable, clean source of electrical power.

"This is a good first step, a transition to what could be the answer to the and the enormous environmental harm it does," said Li.

Li collaborated with lead researcher Hongtao Zhang, a former post-doctoral fellow, Waterloo mathematics professor Xinzhi Liu and Jinyue Yan, an energy expert and professor in Sweden.

A paper on their work, Enhancing fuel cell durability for cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicles through strategic power management, appears in the journal Applied Energy.


Explore further

Hybrid electricity system would reduce rates, improve service

More information: Hongtao Zhang et al. Enhancing fuel cell durability for fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicles through strategic power management, Applied Energy (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2019.02.040
Citation: Clean fuel cells could be cheap enough to replace gas engines in vehicles (2019, May 8) retrieved 18 September 2019 from https://techxplore.com/news/2019-05-fuel-cells-cheap-gas-vehicles.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
1474 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 08, 2019
We've been hearing that fuel cells are on the verge of revolutionising the world for decades now.

Too late. Now we know that even if we all switch from petrol to hydrogen we'll still be using far to much energy for our lifestyles to be sustainable.

May 08, 2019
due to issues involving limited driving range and long charging times

The funny thing is: These are only issues if you've never sat in en electric vehicle.
Beyond a certain range you need a break. No one drives 1000km (or even 500km - which is a range that today's battery electric vehicles can achieve) in one go. Since you start of with maximum range available in the morning it's a non-issue for daily commute.

Fuel cells are an interesting tech for large scale storage. But until they are ready for prime time on the road (i.e. until cars using it are designed, built and a global production/distribution/fueling infrastructure is set up) BEVs will already be everywhere.

Coupled with the fact that hydrogen MUST be more expensive per mile driven than battery power (because it uses all the steps that battery powered vehicles use and then some on top) I feel it's a non-starter. Why would anyone switch to a much more expensive system when at cheaper one is already on the market?

May 08, 2019
Fuel cells are not limited to use hydrogen, they can use any gas or liquid fuel, as gasoline, methane, LNG. And, of course, sintetic (potentially carbon neutral) fuels as well.
Given the massive infrastructure already in place for the distribution of liquid fuels (and the equally massive required investments in grid infrastructure in case of widespread use of electric cars), having an alternative route for sustainable mobility through the use of highly efficient fuel cells become extremely interesting. Beside minimizing investments (and thus the associated emission), a carbon neutral fuel cell vehicle will offer the best of both worlds: high efficiency, zero net emissions, fast fueling time.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more