Fuel cell electric vehicles make rapid progress in range, durability

Aug 13, 2012

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently completed a seven-year project to demonstrate and evaluate hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and hydrogen fueling infrastructure in real-world settings.

The National Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Learning Demonstration Final Report shows progress in extending vehicle driving ranges and increasing fuel cell durability and discusses NREL’s key findings from the demonstration project. This effort, funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), supports the Department's broader strategy to advance U.S. leadership in and fuel cell technological innovation and help the industry bring these technologies into the marketplace at lower cost.

The report communicates the results of the National Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Learning Demonstration — the world’s largest single FCEV and hydrogen fueling infrastructure demonstration to date — which generated data from more than 500,000 individual vehicle trips covering 3.6 million miles traveled and 152,000 kg hydrogen produced or dispensed.

“The project results show that fuel cell electric vehicles have advanced rapidly,” said Keith Wipke, acting manager of NREL’s Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies Program and the report’s lead author. “As vehicle manufacturers and other researchers worldwide continue to focus on the remaining challenges of balancing durability, cost, and high-volume manufacturability, there is optimism that manufacturers will introduce FCEVs to the market within the next few years.”

NREL’s Hydrogen Secure Data Center (HSDC) plays a crucial role in the independent, third-party analysis of hydrogen fuel cell technologies. While the raw data are protected in the HSDC, the public may see aggregated results through composite data products (CDPs), which communicate relevant technical results without revealing proprietary data. NREL has published 99 CDPs related to fuel cell durability, vehicle driving range, on-site hydrogen production costs, and a wide variety of other topics.

DOE established interim, high-level technical targets in 2003 for FCEVs and hydrogen fueling infrastructure with the goal of achieving them by 2009. The targets were:

• 250-mile driving range
• 2,000-hour fuel cell durability
• $3 per gallon gasoline equivalent for hydrogen production cost.

Technical results showed that at least one of the four industry teams exceeded each of DOE’s FCEV targets for driving range and fuel cell durability, with a team achieving 254-mile driving range and a team showing projected average fuel cell stack durability of 2,521 hours. The report also evaluated a separate FCEV capable of reaching a driving range of up to 430 miles.

Low on-site hydrogen production costs were difficult to demonstrate through this project because current hydrogen stations were not designed, constructed, and used as full-scale commercial stations. While this project did not achieve DOE’s hydrogen cost target, an independent review panel examined the issue of hydrogen production costs and determined that the production cost target could be met for at least one pathway (hydrogen produced from natural gas) in commercialized hydrogen stations at sizes comparable to gasoline stations. With increased availability of low-cost natural gas, hydrogen costs can be decreased even further.

The Learning Demonstration project started in 2004 with four major vehicle manufacturers (GM, Daimler, Hyundai-Kia, and Ford) and three energy partners (Shell, BP, and Chevron) contributing data for NREL analysis. Project costs were shared 50-50 between industry and EERE. Later, DOE’s California Hydrogen Infrastructure Project, executed by Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., contributed data on its fueling stations.

“We received final project data from our industry partners in October 2011, and have completed our analysis across the entire demonstration period,” Wipke said. “Through this project, 183 were deployed, 25 project fueling stations were placed in use, and no fundamental safety issues were identified.”

Explore further: US urged to drop India WTO case on solar

More information: Find full report at www.nrel.gov/hydrogen/pdfs/54860.pdf

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User comments : 9

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5 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2012
Greater than 250 miles range, 2000 hours until 10% voltage degradation and 3 dollars gasoline equivalent all seems pretty reasonable.

Though I don't think it's really fair to use gge, since that just compares energy content and leaves out energy efficiency.
While for 3 dollars you may get the same energy content combustion engines usually top out below 40% in terms of efficiency while fuel cells go as high as 60%.

So if we factor that in (and want to use gge) then the aim should be a gge of 4.50 dollars.
(Over here I'm paying between 6 and 7 dollars per gallon, anyhow - so even if we grant the producers a godly amount of profit per gallon then that should be easily economically achievable)
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 13, 2012
The US government will be bankrupt way before this becomes a reality. We need to concentrate on transportation solutions that stand a chance of being economically feasible ( like natural gas ) and quit this hydrogen economy farce.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2012
i heard they combust fuel to make fuel so how efficient is fuel from the ground until the car? a lot less than a windmill and EV i bet.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2012
Reforming H2 from natural gas is extremely wasteful in terms of energy and creates the same amount of CO2 that burning the gas would in the first place. Some nuclear reactor designs could product H2 almost as a byproduct, but none of these reactors have reached the commercial stage. Compressing or cooling and transporting H2 will be extremely costly, as it cannot be piped without serious losses.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2012
Producing H2 from natural gas is 20th Century technology. As the 21st Century progresses we want to make huge quantities of H2 by hydrolysis using electricity from solar and wind. This can be done locally, no pipelines needed.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
This can be done locally, no pipelines needed.

While I do agree that hydrolysis is the way to go I don't think we'll get by with no infrastructure (whether it be pipelines or tanker trucks)

The stuff you put in your car carries a certain amount of energy. That amonut of energy must be gathered (and at some point it likely originated from sunlight). From this you can calculate the area and time needed to catch sunlight for hydrolysis of one tank of 'gas'.

Since we do want refueling stations of some kind the area needed multiplies by the number of cars serviced. And that area is BIG (read: No way an urban filling station will have enough area available to produce the needed hydrogen locally)
not rated yet Aug 14, 2012
Producing H2 from natural gas is 20th Century technology. As the 21st Century progresses we want to make huge quantities of H2 by hydrolysis using electricity from solar and wind. This can be done locally, no pipelines needed.

And as a result you are loosing major efficiency.
not rated yet Aug 14, 2012

Since we do want refueling stations of some kind the area needed multiplies by the number of cars serviced. And that area is BIG (read: No way an urban filling station will have enough area available to produce the needed hydrogen locally)

@antialias -- You're correct that most urban areas would need to bring in hydrogen (or any energy) via tankers, pipelines, electric lines, etc. But compared to the transcontinental pipelines we use today for oil and gas, they would be much shorter. Also, hydrogen-fuel-cell power is only part of the mix of solutions, not the universal solution -- for many urban drivers an electric battery car could be enough. (@MR166 -- Even natural gas vehicles might be part of the mix of solutions, for a while.)
not rated yet Aug 14, 2012
But compared to the transcontinental pipelines we use today for oil and gas, they would be much shorter.

Yes. Though tanker trucks are probably an easier solution to get things going with little cost. They do seem to work well for the current fuel infrastructure.
Especially at first, when the amount of hydrogen powered cars is still low, laying down pipes everywhere seems costly. When the switchover has been made that calculation may change.

A hydrogen/battery hybrid would be my preferred solution. Drive the "first and last mile" on batteries, only.
Keep the hydrogen tank empty unless you want to travel long distances. That way you don't have the continuous storage problem of hydrogen in your car (possibly even dump excess hydrogen at a filling station near your destination)

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