Growing regulatory pressures from government authorities such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are stimulating the adoption of fuel cell technologies in order to ensure reduced emissions and effective fuel conversion. Initiatives such as the California Fuel Cell Partnership are likely to usher in the use of fuel cells in commercial vehicles much earlier than expected.
“Fuel cells are likely to be initially targeted on fleet vehicles,” notes Frost & Sullivan Senior Research Analyst Vijay Shankar Murthy. “Following the success of these cells in fleet vehicles, other vehicles such as passenger cars and trucks are expected to exhibit similar trends.”
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Fuel cells help reduce the dependence on the ever-depleting fossil fuel reserves by using hydrogen. These energy-efficient devices have the ability to reduce noxious emissions by a great deal. These cells draw their energy from electrochemical conversion, wherein chemical energy converts into electrical energy and water is the only by-product that results greenhouse gas emissions being minimal.
“Prospective fuel cell technologies for the automotive industry such as solid oxide, proton exchange membrane, and alkaline fuel cells can power a variety of automobiles including trucks, cars, and motorcycles,” notes Murthy.
Competition for this technology mainly stems from internal combustion (IC) engines and batteries. Some automobile companies have begun to invest in research activities to equip vehicles with IC engines that have a better design and run on alternative fuels, thus enabling clear emissions.
Similarly, industry participants are developing more powerful batteries, which are capable of working under high temperature ranges, thus making them suitable for applications in automobiles. However, it is vital for fuel cell manufacturers to capitalize on the strengths of the fuel cell technology rather than focus on its competition.
“Fuel cell manufacturers can achieve considerable benefits by finding a viable solution to the hydrogen storage issue while also reducing the cost of the membrane electrode assembly,” explains Murthy. “Examining the use of methanol and ethanol can also be of great help to manufacturers since these are rich in hydrogen and serve as alternate sources of fuel.”
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Advances in Fuel Cells for Automotive Applications