(35e) Hydrogen and Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells for Transportation | AIChE

(35e) Hydrogen and Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells for Transportation


Mathur, V. K. - Presenter, University of New Hampshire
Teng, X., University of New Hampshire

Hydrogen has the potential to solve many of the energy challenges that confront the world today, such as reducing dependence on petroleum imports and decreasing pollution and green house gas emissions. There is general agreement that hydrogen could play an increasingly important role in world’s energy future. Currently, we have a hydrocarbon economy but we lack the know-how to produce hydrogen from hydrocarbons or water and deliver it to consumers in a clean, affordable, safe and convenient manner as an automotive fuel or for power generation.

Hydrogen can be produced through thermal, electric or pyrolytic processes applied to fossil fuel, water or biomass. Nuclear-based systems can produce hydrogen from water using thermal or electrolytic processes but are not as efficient or cost effective as fossil fuels. The thermal production procedure that uses steam to produce hydrogen from natural gas or other light hydrocarbon is most common

The technology of fuel cell systems for electric vehicles started from the history of the Alkaline Fuel Cell (AFC) after World War II. Since then fuel cells have mostly been used in space vehicles. However, since the 1990s, there has been considerable effort to develop fuel cells for land based vehicular transportation. The Ballard Power System of Canada has successfully collaborated with several automobile companies in this area towards the development of electric vehicles. The feasibility of electric vehicles to operate on fuel cell power is a fact. The choice of fuel cell is still open. The prototypes of fuel-cell operated small appliances for public use may be in the market within two to three years.  However, fuel-cell driven automobiles may not be available commercially for another decade.

A number of fuel cell vehicles are being developed and tested by several car manufacturers including Ford Motor Co (USA), General Motors Corp (USA), DaimlerChrysler AG (Germany), Honda Motors Co (Japan), Toyota Motor Co (Japan), Renault- Nissan (France/Japan) and PSA Peugeot Citroen (France). In the USA, as in other countries, the factors adversely affecting hydrogen’s potential as a major energy source are our inability to build and sustain national consensus on energy policy priorities; the lack of a hydrogen infrastructure and substantial cost of building one; the high cost of hydrogen production, storage and conversion devices such as fuel cells; and hydrogen safety issues.

The reliance upon the oil, gas and coal for all our energy needs has resulted in the severe depletion of these natural resources and caused immense environmental pollution problems. Other alternative energy technologies such as solar, wind, hydroelectric power can provide power for many applications but are not suitable to be used for transportation vehicles, military applications, and the long-term needs of future electronics. One option is to use hydrogen which has high energy density and is non-polluting. It can be used directly in internal combustion engines or in fuel cells for generating electricity. For transportation applications, fuel cell-operated vehicles can be supplied hydrogen generated at the fueling stations or transported from production plants. There is a need for the development of an infrastructure for hydrogen fueling stations which is practically nonexistent to this date. It is difficult to predict how soon the transition to hydrogen economy will occur.  Cost of hydrogen production, transportation and fuel cell operated vehicles has to come down before future generation can enjoy the benefits of electric vehicles.  Investment in R&D will help us move towards this goal.