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Fakhreddine, O.; Gharbia, Y.; Derakhshandeh, J.F.; Amer, A.M. Hydrogen Fuel Cells in Transportation. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/46111 (accessed on 14 April 2024).
Fakhreddine O, Gharbia Y, Derakhshandeh JF, Amer AM. Hydrogen Fuel Cells in Transportation. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/46111. Accessed April 14, 2024.
Fakhreddine, Omar, Yousef Gharbia, Javad Farrokhi Derakhshandeh, Ahmed M Amer. "Hydrogen Fuel Cells in Transportation" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/46111 (accessed April 14, 2024).
Fakhreddine, O., Gharbia, Y., Derakhshandeh, J.F., & Amer, A.M. (2023, June 27). Hydrogen Fuel Cells in Transportation. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/46111
Fakhreddine, Omar, et al. "Hydrogen Fuel Cells in Transportation." Encyclopedia. Web. 27 June, 2023.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells in Transportation
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Conventional transportation systems are facing many challenges related to reducing fuel consumption, noise, and pollutants to satisfy rising environmental and economic criteria. These requirements have prompted many researchers and manufacturers in the transportation sector to look for cleaner, more efficient, and more sustainable alternatives. An overview of the application of hydrogen fuel cells in the transportation sector is presented.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells Transportation Systems Renewable Energy Hybrid Electric Vehicles Emissions Clean Urban

1. Introduction

Powertrains based on fuel cell systems could partially or completely replace their conventional counterparts used in all modes of transport, starting from small ones, such as scooters, to large mechanisms such as commercial airplanes. Since hydrogen fuel cells (HFCs) emit only water and heat as byproducts and have higher energy conversion efficiency in comparison with other conventional systems, it has become tempting for many scholars to explore their potential for resolving the environmental and economic concerns associated with the transportation sector. This research thoroughly reviews the principles and applications of fuel cell systems for the main transportation schemes, including scooters, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, buses, trains, and aerial vehicles. The research showed that fuel cells would soon become the powertrain of choice for most modes of transportation.

2. Motorcycles, Scooters, and Bicycles

With the increase in traffic jams in major cities around the world, commuting via motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles has become very attractive for many. The manufacturers of these products are competing to make them even more attractive by making them more efficient and more comfortable. Pearl Hydrogen Power Source Technology Co of Shanghai, China, as a pioneer of two-wheeled vehicles powered by hydrogen, demonstrated the first hydrogen bicycle in 2007. Two-wheeled vehicles (TWV), such as bicycles and motorcycles, are common in transportation systems in many places and countries, notably in Asia, with numerous populations. Consequently, HFC two-wheeled vehicles can help meet air quality standards. In addition, they can affect noise pollution reduction [1].
The development of HFC motorcycles is still immature. Many HFC motorcycle and scooter concepts have been proposed [2][3][4][5][6], and many companies have attempted to construct various technologies and motorbike sizes employing a variety of fuel supplies, including HFCs [7]. Compared to gasoline-powered motorcycles, HFC motorcycles are relatively quiet and highly energy-efficient, with zero emissions. The benefits of HFC motorcycles, then, have the potential to minimize the problems associated with a gasoline-powered system and motivate users to acquire and use HFC motorcycle products [8].
The performance and development of electric motorcycles in Singapore and Malaysia were reported by Weigl et al. [3]. The scholars designed, manufactured, and examined an electrical motorcycle sample that used a combination of an HFC system, a lithium polymer battery pack, and an ultra-capacitor module. The interesting results revealed that the motorcycle can travel approximately 2400 km on hilly roads at 77 (km/h), even during heavy rain. The fuel consumption of the sample was 0.51 kg H2 per 100 km. The results guaranteed that the motorcycle could be built and used for actual road applications [3][9]. Compared to low-carbon transportation systems powered by fossil fuels, HFC sources stand out due to the high-efficiency electrochemical reactions in HFC batteries [10]. The employment of HFCs for evaluating the environmental sustainability of urban delivery systems was applied to different hydrogen vehicles in Italy by Bartolozzi et al. [11]. It was reported that transportation systems powered by HFCs provide a maximum efficiency of 63%, which is much higher than that of conventional fuel consumer engines in Italy.

3. Passenger Cars

Despite the efforts made by the automotive industry in the past few years to decrease the effects of ICEs on the environment, they have still not been able to bring emissions to an acceptable level. Burning fossil fuels, such as diesel, in internal combustion engines (ICEs) creates toxic byproducts such as NOX, CO, and CO2, which are very detrimental to the environment. In 2020, passenger cars were responsible for 41% of the 7.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in global transportation emissions [12]. Therefore, and for the sake of a cleaner and more sustainable environment, the transition to electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) has become inevitable [13]. The early attempts to introduce EVs in the 1990s were not successful because of their costs and low performance in terms of top speed and travel range in comparison with vehicles run on ICEs. With recent advancements in battery and fuel cell technologies, many automotive manufacturers have announced plans to begin serious production within the next two to three years. EV sales will exceed 10% of global vehicle sales in 2022 and are expected to reach 30% by 2030 [14]. Concurrently, the global market share of fuel cell technology is expanding rapidly. In 2022, the fuel cell revenue was estimated at USD 2.9 billion with a projected increase to USD 9.1 billion by 2027 [15]. The combination of EVs with fuel cell technology is predicted to revolutionize the automotive industry soon.
High power density, the capacity to respond to significant swings in power demand, and employing a low-temperature solid electrolyte providing hydrogen ions are the most essential aspects in selecting the finest fuel cells for passenger cars. For this reason, automobile manufacturers choose to equip new cars with proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Due to its abundant availability and strong reactivity, oxygen is used in PEM fuel cells as the oxidant and hydrogen (H+) as the electrolyte [16]. PEM can function at temperatures between 70 °C and 90 °C while maintaining a pressure of 1 to 2 bars. The PEM fuel cell has several benefits in addition to its low operating temperatures, such as being a dry, solid, and non-corrosive electrolyte; tolerance to carbon dioxide content in the surrounding air; high current and voltage; high density of power; and small size and simple design [17]. The energy content of hydrogen is 120 MJ/kg, more than double that of liquefied natural gas, diesel, and gasoline [18].
Though hydrogen fuel cells can offer numerous benefits to vehicles, they have certain drawbacks. These drawbacks include a lengthy startup period, a lack of power output at slower speeds, a delayed response when a quick surge in power is required, and excessive power output during rapid acceleration [19]. These drawbacks can be avoided by integrating a secondary energy storage system that would function in tandem with a fuel cell. If the fuel cell is unable to generate enough energy on its own, this hybrid setup can provide the necessary power. Two groups of these hybridized systems may be distinguished: fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with a longer range (FC-PHEVs).

4. Buses

With the objective of diminishing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing air quality in densely populated urban regions, developed nations have made substantial financial commitments toward the advancement of cutting-edge technologies. Public transportation has recently received significant attention due to its huge environmental impact and tremendous opportunity for improvement. Fuel cell buses are an excellent choice for urban public transit, offering significant environmental and economic benefits compared to conventional buses, such as zero emissions, quiet operations, and reduced maintenance due to fewer moving parts [20].
According to the findings of Eudy and Chandler [21], fuel cell electric buses (FCEBs) have higher fuel economy than diesel buses, as indicated in Figure 1. Despite accounting for a tiny proportion of all vehicles on the road, buses have a considerable environmental impact [22]. Fuel cell buses have zero emissions, making them an appealing choice for decreasing urban air pollution [23]. These buses are significantly quieter than regular diesel buses and require less maintenance and refilling. This is due to the buses’ ability to be gathered at a single location for fueling and maintenance under the authority of the fleet operator.
Figure 1. The mean fuel efficiency of fuel cell buses and diesel buses [21].
Buses offer a more advantageous choice for accommodating the fuel cell stack, fuel cell storage system, and battery storage in comparison to conventional vehicles, owing to their diminished weight and capacity restrictions [23]. As a result, various vehicle firms and educational institutions have put several initiatives to the test in the hopes of commercializing HFC bus technology. Common barriers to commercialization include the high initial costs of operating fuel cell buses, the longevity of fuel cell power systems, and the cost of recharging hydrogen gas.

Hydrogen Storage System in Passenger Cars

In order to find the best technology for fuel cell buses, Zamora et al. [24] analyzed two technologies (internal combustion engine and fuel cell-driven electric motor). Both technologies rely on hydrogen for vehicle fuel. The comparison was based on several parameters, including CO2 emissions, environmental sensitivity, efficiency, dependability, autonomy, useful life, and cost. Based on this research, it was determined that the technology based on fuel cells was a superior option for extracting the potential energy of hydrogen in relation to the criteria discussed previously.
Bubna et al. [23] reported the development of a fuel cell hybrid bus (FCHB). The FCHB consists of hydrogen tanks, nickel–cadmium (NiCd) liquid-cooled batteries, the HFC system, and an inverter. The fuel cell hybrid bus provided an average efficiency of 42% throughout the normal drive cycle, indicating that the bus’s performance was highly promising. The FCHB, with its battery-heavy hybrid configuration (which runs mainly in battery-alone mode until the state of recharge), resulted in cheaper costs and improved performance and durability, contributing to this good outcome.
Byung and Tae [25] investigated the development of FCVs by Hyundai-Kia Motors, beginning with their first-generation FCV in 2000. The bus was tested during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The fuel cell was capable of producing a maximum of 160 kW, with an extra capacitor of 80 kW functioning as a backup when needed. The electric motor on this FC bus has a power capability of 240 kW.
In 2006, the Clean Urban Transport for Europe (CUTE) Project concluded, marking the conclusion of a pioneering initiative that involved the simultaneous deployment of a significant fleet of 27 fuel cell buses across nine cities for testing purposes. Saxe et al. [26] published the HFC bus performance data and examined the drive cycle in five different cities. Their findings suggest that the overall fuel cell system efficiency (between 36% and 41%) is relatively high. However, HFC buses consumed more energy than diesel buses. The authors stated that more fuel consumption reductions might be achieved by reducing the weight by up to 2 tons, removing reliability measures, and utilizing hybridization with electrical auxiliaries, which can reduce fuel consumption by up to 35–40%.
In order to research the deterioration process of the HFC system, Li et al. [27] designed a plug-in HFC city bus. The 270 total cells in the 18-ton bus, which was constructed in 2015 and featured a 60 kW power stack, demonstrated power stability on continuous journeys. They concluded that an increase in ohmic polarization mostly caused the voltage drop.

5. Trains

The energy source for fuel cell-powered trams is hydrogen. A hybrid system combining large-capacity lithium titanate batteries and fuel cells powers the tram. The only pollutants produced by tram operations are heat and water. The tram’s hydrogen fuel is stored in high-pressure tanks on the tram’s roof. Cutting-edge heat dissipation and storage technology boosts hydrogen capacity and cruising range. This fuel cell tram typically has enough fuel to run for more than 13 h every day. Table 1 shows the specifications of the Fashon city tram which has been employed in China [28].
China was one of the pioneers that practically employed a commercial fuel cell-powered tram system in Foshan, a city in Guangdong Province. To take advantage of this chance, the city is developing into a hub for the design and production of hydrogen fuel cell products. It also looks to technology to help the city satisfy its urgent demand for environmentally friendly transportation. Therefore, several hydrogen initiatives have been carried out in Foshan, such as the Foshan Gaoming Modern Hydrogen Tram Demonstration Line, which is perhaps the most well-known of them. In July 2019, the first hydrogen tram was employed in Foshan, and the Foshan Gaoming tram line opened to the general public and began receiving payments in December 2019. During peak hours, the project management team, which is headed by Foshan Metro, expects to operate four trams with departures every 10 min and 115 departures each day. Each tram includes three coach bodies that can accommodate 360 passengers in total, has a top speed of 70 km/h, and has a range of 125 km per refueling [28].
The world’s first HFC train, Coradia iLintTM, was powered by hydrogen in 2016 in Berlin with 160 passenger seats. In the European Union (EU), the majority of the passengers commute by electrified railways, which is about 53%; nevertheless, employing such a system in other countries such as North America is not applicable to this capacity as most of the railway lines are non-electrified [29].

6. Trucks

HFC technology in medium-duty (MD) and heavy-duty (HD) vehicles has high potency in reducing greenhouse emissions and energy consumption. Globally, heavy-duty trucks produce approximately 36% of nitrogen oxide emissions [30] and 25% of the US transportation sector’s greenhouse gases [31]. Studies conducted by the US Energy Information Administration predict a spike of up to 80% in total miles driven by trucks between 2010–2050 [32]. For this reason, trucks have been a vital parameter to consider when reducing emissions from powertrains. Despite the widespread use of fuel cell technology in cars and buses, its application in trucks is still relatively limited. HFCs have been put forward as a feasible substitute for diesel engines with the aim of reducing pollutant emissions [33]. However, their driving range and performance are still in question. Although the number of hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks, vans, and buses on the road today is limited, several studies have shown that HFC vehicles are crucial for minimizing the effect of climate change by the year 2050 [34].

7. Aerial Transportation Systems

The adverse impact of the emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels on the climate is becoming apparent. The aviation industry contributes about 2.1% of global CO2 emissions, and when other pollutants and greenhouse gases are factored in, this figure approaches 5%, making the industry one of the top ten emitters [35]. Noise pollution is another nuisance, especially for communities neighboring major airports around the globe. To tackle these problems, the European Commission, for instance, has set a few environmental targets aiming to reduce CO2 emissions by 75%, NOx gases by 90%, and perceived noise by 65% produced by a typical aircraft compared to the year 2000 levels by the year 2050 [36][37]. Similarly, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), among other influential entities in the aviation sector, have set a target of attaining a 50% decrease in CO2 emissions by 2050. Such ambitious goals would require a drastic paradigm shift in the aviation industry that cannot be merely achieved by reducing fuel consumption through improvements in aircraft aerodynamics or by designing more efficient engines.

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