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Sustainable Transportation:

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles as the Future of Automobiles

Since 176! "hen the #rst $ehicle able to mo$e under its o"n po"er
"as in$ented % po"ered by a steam engine! the ad$ancement of automobiles
has been continuous and is no" one of the greatest achie$ements of
technology &'ottor()* As the years passed from the birth of the car!
inno$ations such as the internal combustion engine! lighter and stronger
chassis! air bags! radio! air conditioning! and many other impro$ements "ere
integrated into cars &'ellis)* The number of cars "orld"ide has surpassed the
1 billion mar+ and is still increasing &,ards Auto! -.11)* Ho"e$er! the greatly
de$eloped automoti$e industry and the large number of automobiles around
the "orld ha$e caused! and are still causing! serious problems to the
en$ironment and human life* The deterioration in air /uality! global "arming!
increase of greenhouse gases! and decline in the amount of petroleum
resources are 0ust some of the negati$e e(ects and ma0or threats to human
beings brought about by the e1cessi$e number of automobiles &2rennen 3
4osthal! -..7)* 5t is predicted that the remaining petroleum oil and natural
gas reser$es in the "orld "ill be su6cient only for another fe" decades* The
transportation sector is gro"ing at a faster rate than the oil reser$es* 4apid
technological ad$ancement in the automoti$e industry and the increase in
the number and use of personal $ehicles de$astates the current oil reser$es
&4amadhas! -.11)* 5t has been "ell documented that electric! hybrid! and
fuel cell7po"ered $ehicle technologies are the most promising solutions to
the problem of sustainable transportation for the future*
Hydrogen fuel cell $ehicles aim to sol$e the problem of pollution
caused by automobiles and the depletion of petroleum reser$es around the
"orld* 5t o(ers a source of energy that is ine1haustible! en$ironmentally safe
and al"ays a$ailable*
The oil crisis of 178 occurred "hen members of the 9rgani:ation of
;etroleum <1porting Countries &9;<C) in the =iddle <ast stopped e1porting
oil to the >nited States and other ,estern countries as a punishment for
supporting 5srael* The e(ect of this crisis "as the /uadrupling of oil prices
&Horton)* This prompted ne" ideas to surface in politics! business! and
technology* ,ords such as consumption! resources! climate! and emissions
suddenly gained "orld"ide attention and signi#cance* The oil crisis
prompted a number of automobile manufacturers to launch an intensi$e
search for alternati$e fuels and their applications in internal combustion
engines &2rennen 3 4osthal! -..7)*
For nearly -.. years! the prospect of someday ma+ing use of hydrogen
as a substitute for coal and fossil fuel has fascinated the scientists and
dreamers among people* 5n ?ules Verne@s boo+ in 1A7B! entitled The
=ysterious 5sland! he "rote:
CDes! my friends! 5 belie$e that "ater "ill one day be employed
as fuel! that hydrogen and o1ygen "hich constitute it! used singly or
together! "ill furnish an ine1haustible source of heat and light! of an
intensity of "hich coal is not capable**** ,hen the deposits of coal are
e1hausted "e shall heat and "arm oursel$es "ith "ater* ,ater "ill be
the coal of the future*E
>ntil no"! hydrogen is still seen as the fuel of the future* Hydrogen is
the simplest! lightest! and most abundant element in the uni$erse* 5n spite of
its simplicity and abundance! it is not a naturally7occurring gas on <arth*
Hydrogen easily bonds itself "ith other elements due to the attracti$e force
bet"een the hydrogen attached to an electronegati$e atom of one molecule
and an electronegati$e atom of a di(erent moleculeF therefore! it is ne$er
found on its o"n* For instance! Hydrogen can be found in "ater and organic
compounds* HydrogenGs energy density is three times greater than that of
gasoline* This ma+es hydrogen the highest energy7"ielding element among
other fuels &FuelCells*org)*
Hydrogen can be e1tracted from any hydrogen7containing compound!
"hether it be a rene"able or non7rene"able resource* There are numerous
possible sources from "hich hydrogen can e1tracted from li+e "ater or fuels
such as gasoline! propane! methanol and natural gas! "hich are made up of
hydrocarbons* Hydrocarbons are compounds of hydrogen and carbon*
Through a process called reforming! "herein heat "ill be applied! hydrogen
can be e1tracted from hydrocarbons* Another "ay to e1tract hydrogen from
"ater is through electrolysis* 5n this process! an electrical current is used to
separate "ater into its components of o1ygen and hydrogen molecules
&4ene"able<nergy,orld*com)* As little as 1*B $olts can be used for this
process! but this "ould mean a slo"er e1traction of hydrogen* A higher
$oltage of electricity "ould mean a faster electrolysis process &He" =e1ico
Solar <nergy Association)*
Fuel cells ha$e been around for o$er 17. years* Christian Friedrich
SchInbein! a Jerman scientist! disco$ered the principle of the fuel cell in
1A8A* 'ased on SchInbeinGs principle! the #rst fuel cell "as pioneered in
1A8 by Sir ,illiam 4obert Jro$e! a ,elsh 0udge! in$entor! and physicist* He
mi1ed hydrogen and o1ygen in the presence of an electrolyte! "hich
produced electricity and "ater* At that time! the in$ention! "hich "as later
called a fuel cell! didn@t produce enough electricity to be able to po"er a
de$ice* 5t only produced around *7 $olts &<hsani! Jao! 3 Jay! -..B)* 5n 18-!
Francis 'acon de$eloped the #rst successful fuel cell de$ice* 5t "as not until
1B that a practical B7+, fuel cell system "as demonstrated by Francis
'acon and company &FuelCellToday*com)*
A fuel cell is a de$ice that con$erts chemical energy from a fuel source
into electricity through a chemical reaction "ith o1ygen or another o1idi:ing
agent* A hydrogen fuel cell "or+s by combining hydrogen and o1ygen! "hich
then produces electricity! heat! and "ater* A fuel cell has t"o electrodes! an
anode &negati$e side) and a cathode &positi$e side)! separated by an
electrolyte membrane* 91ygen passes o$er one electrode and hydrogen o$er
the other* The hydrogen reacts to a catalyst on the electrode anode! "hich
then con$erts the hydrogen gas into negati$ely charged electrons and
positi$ely charged ions* The negati$ely charged electrons Ko" out of the cell
to be used as electrical energy* The positi$ely charged hydrogen ions mo$e
through the electrolyte membrane going to the cathode electrode "here it
combines "ith o1ygen and the electrons! ha$ing "ater as the by7product
=odern portable fuel cells can generate electricity to po"er any sort of
de$ice or machine "e use e$ery day such as cellular phones! laptop
computers! cameras! and $ideo recorders* 9ther than automobiles! fuel cell
technology is also used in space missions of the Hational Aeronautics and
Space Administration &HASA)* 5n the late 1B.s! HASA funded hundreds of
research contracts to further de$elop fuel cells as compact electric
generators for their probes! satellites! and space capsules &4amadhas! -.11)*
9ne of the $iable options for sustainable transportation is the electric
$ehicle* <lectric $ehicles use an electric motor for traction and chemical
batteries or ultracapacitors for its energy source* 5ts ad$antages o$er the
internal combustion engine $ehicle includes the absence of emissions! high
e6ciency! independence from petroleum! and its /uiet and smooth
operation* Ho"e$er! the performance! especially the operation range per
battery charge! is far less competiti$e than internal combustion engine
$ehicles* This is due to the lo" energy content of the batteries compared to
the energy content of gasoline &<hsani! Jao! 3 Jay! -..B)*
5n contrast to a chemical battery used by electric $ehicles! fuel cells
generate electric energy rather than storing it! and continues to do so as
long as the fuel supply is maintained &4amadhas! -.11)* Another ad$antage
that a fuel cell $ehicle has o$er a battery7po"ered electric $ehicle is that it
has a longer dri$ing range "ithout a long battery charging time*
Another possible option for sustainable transportation is the hybrid
electric $ehicle* Hybrid electric $ehicles ma+es use of t"o po"er sources! a
primary po"er source and a secondary po"er source 7 namely chemical
batteries and gasoline* Hybrid $ehicles therefore ha$e the ad$antages of
both internal combustion engine $ehicles and electric $ehicles! enabling it to
o$ercome the disad$antages of the t"o &<hsani! Jao! 3 Jay! -..B)*
=odern internal combustion engine $ehicles emit roughly 1*.L metric
tons of carbon annually* Hydrogen $ehicles o(er the potential for :ero
emissions if the hydrogen is produced using electrolysis from a non7carbon
emitting source* Hydrogen produced using coal gasi#cation or steam
reforming "ill result in signi#cant carbon emissions unless these options
include carbon capture or se/uestration &2rennen 3 4osthal! -..7)*
<1isting hybrid $ehicles emit .*B- metric tons of carbon annually! half
as much as current internal combustion engine $ehicles* For the electric
$ehicle! annual carbon emissions depend on the source of electricity* Annual
estimates range from . for non7carbon based electricity sources to .*BA
metric tons per year if coal is used to produce electricity &2rennen 3 4osthal!
A hydrogen fuel cell $ehicle using hydrogen produced from coal
gasi#cation "ithout carbon capture and se/uestration "ould emit about .*7B
metric tons of carbon per year* ,ith carbon capture and se/uestration! the
same hydrogen fuel cell $ehicle "ould release .M less than e1isting
$ehicles &*1. metric tons)* 5f fueled "ith hydrogen from electrolysis using
carbon7based electricity! annual emissions "ould be greater than e1isting
$ehicles &1*B7 metric tons)F but "hen a non7carbon electricity source is used!
there "ould be . emissions &2rennen 3 4osthal! -..7)*
2oubters of the hydrogen economy classify hydrogen as one of the
least e6cient and most e1pensi$e possible replacements for gasoline* This is
because of the thought that the production of hydrogen "ould be through
the use of electrolysis by burning coal! "hich releases more carbon dio1ide
than internal combustion engines* Another reason "ould be the cost* As of
no"! the cost of a hydrogen fuel cell $ehicle is still e1pensi$e* The
infrastructure for a hydrogen economy is also still not strong* <lectric
$ehicles and hybrid $ehicles may be less e1pensi$e and easier to be
implemented* A comprehensi$e study of hydrogen in transportation
applications! entitled The Hydrogen Economy! concluded that Cthere are
ma0or hurdles on the path to achie$ing the $ision of the hydrogen economyF
the path "ill not be simple or straightfor"ardC* Some e1perts belie$e that
fuel cell $ehicles "ill ne$er become economically competiti$e "ith other
technologies* They claim that it "ill ta+e decades for it to become pro#table*
The infrastructure is yet to be #nished* There are only a small number of
hydrogen fueling centers and hydrogen production po"er plants &S/uatriglia!
-..A)* 5n -.18! Nu1 4esearch! 5nc* issued a report that stated: CThe dream of
a hydrogen economy is no nearer*C 9ther studies noted that electricity
obtained from hydrogen fuel cells appears to be four times as e1pensi$e as
electricity dra"n from the electrical transmission grid* 'ecause of the high
energy losses! hydrogen cannot compete "ith electricity* The 9bama
Administration sought to reduce funding for the research and de$elopment of
fuel cell $ehicles! concluding that other $ehicle technologies "ill lead to
/uic+er reduction in greenhouse emissions in a shorter time* Ste$en Chu! the
>nited States Secretary of <nergy! stated in -.. that hydrogen $ehicles "ill
not be practical o$er the ne1t 1. to -. years &'ullis! -..)*
Ho"e$er in -.1-! Ste$en Chu! the >S Secretary of <nergy! stated that
fuel cell cars are no" more economically feasible as natural gas prices ha$e
fallen and hydrogen reforming technologies ha$e impro$ed &5ngram! -.1-)*
The cost of fuel cells has dropped and the amount of hydrogen produced in a
fuel cell has increased* ?ust last ?une! scientists from the >ni$ersity of
,ollongong in Australia ha$e inno$ated a "ay to produce hydrogen through
fuel cells* As little as #$e liters of sea "ater could po"er an a$erage7si:ed
home and a hydrogen fuel cell $ehicle* They de$eloped a light7assisted
catalyst "hich needs less energy input to start the "ater o1idation! thereby
splitting "ater and producing hydrogen &ScienceAlert*com)*
<$ery ma0or automobile manufacturer has research and de$elopment
programs aimed at commerciali:ing hydrogen fuel cell technologies*
Announcements of se$eral ma0or car manufacturers tell of their plans to
introduce a production model of a fuel cell $ehicle in -.1B* =ercedes7'en:
announced that they "ould mo$e the scheduled production date of their fuel
cell car from -.1B up to -.1L* They assert that fuel cell $ehicles are
technically ready for the mar+et* The issue is infrastructureF the lac+ of
hydrogen fueling stations and hydrogen pipeline transport* Toyota has also
stated that it plans to release a fuel cell $ehicle at a price of around
>SOB.!...* Hyundai has started de$eloping a commercial production fuel
cell $ehicle "hich they hope to deli$er 1!... of them by -.1B* Jeneral
=otors! as "ell as Honda! plans to sell fuel cell $ehicles in -.1B* Hissan! on
the other hand! plans to sell their o"n fuel cell $ehicles in -.16 &S/uatriglia!
The #rst fuel cell po"ered bus "as completed in 18* 2aimler 'en:
and Toyota launched their o"n prototype fuel cell po"ered cars in 17
&'ellis)* Fuel cell buses ha$e a 8%1L1M better fuel economy than diesel and
natural gas buses* Currently! there are more than 1.. fuel cell buses
deployed around the "orld* These hydrogen fuel cell buses are only deployed
in places "ith hydrogen fueling stations such as Canada! >nited States!
Jermany! China! <ngland! and 'ra:il* As of -.1-! fe"er than B.. fuel cell
$ehicles ha$e been sold globally &Ha$igant 4esearch! -.18)*
The >nited States has spent more than one billion dollars into fuel cell
research in the last thirty years* Se$eral pieces of legislation ha$e supported
the current interest in hydrogen fuel cell de$elopment: namely! the
congressional Hydrogen Future Act of 16! "hich authori:ed hydrogen
research! de$elopment! and demonstration programs! and se$eral state la"s
promoting :ero emission le$els for cars &;ublic Na" 1.L7-71)*
Starting -..! more than -. fuel cell $ehicle prototypes and
demonstration cars ha$e been released by car manufacturers* A fuel cell
$ehicle running on hydrogen produced from natural gas uses about L.M less
energy and emits LBM less greenhouse gases than a modern internal
combustion engine $ehicle* Humerous research and ad$ancements in fuel
cell technology ha$e resulted to the reduced si:e! "eight and cost of fuel cell
$ehicles &'rin+man! ,ang! ,eber! 3 2arlinton! -..B)*
As of -.11! there "ere at least -.. hydrogen fueling stations
"orld"ideF around AB hydrogen fueling stations are in the >nited States* As
of -.1-! -8 hydrogen fueling stations "ere in California alone* Jermany
currently has more than 1L hydrogen stations! "hich they aim to e1pand to
B. stations by -.1B* 5n ?apan! there "ere 1- hydrogen stations built in 11
cities* 5t is e1pected that 1.. more hydrogen fueling stations "ill be
operational by -.1B* 9ther countries such as 5celand! Canada! S"eden!
South Porea and Hor"ay are also constructing hydrogen fueling stations
nation"ide* 5celand has committed to becoming the "orld@s #rst hydrogen
economy by the year -.B. &S/uatriglia)*
?ust this August -.18! Hyundai became the #rst automobile
manufacturer to mass produce a hydrogen fuel cell $ehicle! the i18B Fuel
Cell* Hyundai "ill lease 1B of its i18B Fuel Cell $ehicles to the =unicipality of
Copenhagen! 2enmar+ o$er the ne1t fe" months* Hyundai aims to ha$e
1!... of its $ehicles on the road by -.1BF by -.-.! the target is 1..!...*
Hyundai plans to sell each $ehicle around OB.!... &Poebler! -.18)*
According to Fran+ Ahrens! HyundaiGs communications o6cer! presently!
each $ehicle costs around the upper O1..!...s* As the <uropean >nion has
started building hydrogen fueling stations! the cars "ill go mainly to <urope
&2iep! -.18)* The i18B Fuel Cell can be refueled in about the same amount of
time as it ta+es to refuel a gasoline car* 5t has a top speed of 161 +ilometers
per hour! goes from .76 +ph in 1-*B seconds! and can tra$el 6.. +ilometers
on a single tan+ of hydrogen*
=a+ing use of hydrogen "ill help reduce a country@s reliance on foreign
oil! impro$e air /uality! and reduce the "orsening and ris+ of climate change*
The supply of hydrogen is unlimited as no country controls access to it*
Jo$ernments! and e$en oil companies! 0oin in the e1ploration and
de$elopment of hydrogen technologies in order to help sol$e the soaring
"orld"ide gro"th in energy demand! recogni:ing that fossil fuels are a
limited resource* Hydrogen o(ers a solution to problems li+e high energy
demands! resource a$ailability! and en$ironmental concerns* Ho"e$er!
obstacles such as the lac+ of infrastructure and hydrogen fueling stations
should be sol$ed* As ;rof* Ad ?*=* $an ,i0+ at the 2elft >ni$ersity of
Technology in the Hetherlands said! C5n terms of the technology! there is still
a lot to do: better fuel cells "ith a longer lifespan! proper and e6cient
production of hydrogen! safe hydrogen storage facilities and infrastructure*E
This technology should not be "asted and neglected* 5t should be utili:ed!
in$ested on! and ma1imi:ed for the future of automobiles and of the "orld*
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