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Current Affairs

Hydrogen fuel in automobiles

Date: 16 December 2019 Tags: Energy

Issue

 Japan is gearing up to put on its roads thousands of vehicles based on a hydrogen cell technology, also known as ‘fuel cells’, ahead of Tokyo Olympics.

 

Background

Japan’s lead in the practical application of the hydrogen fuel cycle, and the ongoing research in this field at the International Research Center for Hydrogen Energy are being studied closely by the Indian government as it readies a hydrogen-fuelled blueprint.

 

Details

  • At the heart of the fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) is a device that uses a source of fuel, such as hydrogen, and an oxidant to create electricity by an electrochemical process.

  • The fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to generate an electric current, water being the only byproduct.

  • Like conventional batteries under the bonnets of automobiles, hydrogen fuel cells too convert chemical energy into electrical energy. From a long-term viability perspective, FCEVs are billed as vehicles of the future, given that hydrogen is the most abundant resource in the universe.

  • While the fuel cells generate electricity through an electrochemical process, unlike a battery-electricity vehicle, it does not store energy and, instead, relies on a constant supply of fuel and oxygen  in the same way that an internal combustion engine relies on a constant supply of petrol or diesel, and oxygen.

  • But unlike the combustion engine cars, there are no moving parts in the fuel cell, so they are more efficient and reliable by comparison.

  • The successful development of hydrogen would provide energy for transportation and electric power and advantage is the wide availability of resources for producing hydrogen.

Advantages of Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV)

  • Fuel cells have strong advantages over conventional combustion-based technologies currently used in many power plants and cars, given that they produce much smaller quantities of greenhouse gases and none of the air pollutants that cause health problems.

  • Such cells are also far more energy efficient than traditional combustion technologies.

  • Unlike battery-powered electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles do not need to be plugged in, and most models exceed 300 km of range on a full tank. They are filled up with a nozzle, just like in a petrol or diesel station.

Disadvantages

  • There are questions of safety as hydrogen is more explosive than petrol.

  • The process of making hydrogen needs energy , often from fossil fuel sources. That has raised questions over hydrogen’s green credentials.

  • The other major hurdle is that the vehicles are expensive, and fuel dispensing pumps are scarce.

Way ahead

  • In India, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, under its Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) programme, has been supporting various such projects in academic institutions, research and development organisations and industry for development.

  • The Ministry of Science and Technology has supported two networked centres on hydrogen storage led by IIT Bombay and Nonferrous Materials Technology Development Centre, Hyderabad.