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10 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Applications You Might Not Know – Renewables

10 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Applications You Might Not Know – Renewables


HIGHLIGHTS

  • Hydrogen fuel cell technology powers warehouse logistics,
    drives global distribution via trucks and vans, and fuels public
    transportation like buses.

  • Despite many applications, the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells
    faces challenges in storage, public perception, and
    infrastructure.

  • WHA is actively working to overcome these obstacles for a safer
    and cleaner future.

Someday soon, you could step into a car that produces zero
greenhouse gasses. You could blaze down the highway next to
efficient buses, delivery vans, and semi-trucks that are all
clean-burning. Even your office could be equipped with emergency
backup generators that run not on fossil fuels, but on hydrogen
fuel cell technology.

These technological marvels aren’t just an optimistic vision
of the future. They are all actually available right
now.

Today, the world is locked in a race towards the future of clean
energy. While we don’t yet know which technologies will play a
role, hydrogen has emerged as a clear front-runner, offering
versatile options for energy production, distribution, and
application.

What’s In A Hydrogen Fuel Cell?

The technology behind much of this transformation is the
hydrogen fuel cell, an electrochemical cell that uses the chemical
energy of hydrogen to generate electricity.

In a hydrogen fuel cell, H2 hydrogen molecules are
split into positively charged protons (blue) and negatively charged
electrons (yellow). The protons pass through an electrolyte
membrane, but the electrons must flow through an external circuit,
creating electricity. Ultimately the protons, electrons, and oxygen
molecules all combine to create water.

Animation
courtesy of BMW.

Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (HFCEVs) may not have
received the same hype as battery electric vehicles (BEVs), but
hydrogen fuel cells go beyond just cars. In fact, current storage
and logistical challenges currently mean that hydrogen is often
better suited for larger-scale commercial applications such as
heavy-duty trucking.

Hydrogen fuel is readily available and efficiently produced as a
petroleum byproduct or through electrolysis using energy generated
by renewable sources. As a liquid or pressurized gas, it’s
relatively easy to transport and quick to refuel, bypassing the
long charge times that most batteries require.

Especially as hydrogen production continues to move to renewable
sources, electrolyzers and fuel cells represent a promising option
for powerful, efficient, 100% clean energy storage and distribution
around the world.

1429452b.jpg

The Toyota Mirai is one type of
hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle that has already been in
production for a number of years. It can be seen on the road and
used by customers in California. Image courtesy of USA Today.

10 Applications Of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Now that we’ve covered some of the science, let’s take a
look at 10 practical uses for hydrogen fuel cells.

1. Warehouse Logistics

Dozens of companies with large warehouse and distribution needs
are turning to hydrogen fuel cells to power clean trucks,
forklifts, pallet jacks, and the like.

This shift towards hydrogen technology not only enhances
productivity but also improves indoor air quality for workers and
contributes to lowering the carbon footprint of the logistics
industry.

2. Global Distribution

Fuel cells boast both the range and power required for long-haul
trucking and local distribution. Companies like Nikola, Hyundai,
Toyota, Kenworth, and UPS are already building hydrogen-powered
semi-trucks and vans.

3. Buses

Hydrogen power is being considered for other public
transportation applications, including hydrogen fuel cell buses. As
of 2023, parts of Europe are increasing their usage of
hydrogen-powered electric buses. The US continues to experiment
with the technology, too: states including California, Nevada, and Philadelphia are developing their hydrogen bus
programs.

4. Trains

Hydrogen fuel cell trains have now appeared in Germany, the UK, Japan, and South Korea. While many of these models are
test trains, the technology is making progress.

WHA is closely involved in this particular use case – our
hydrogen experts are partnering with the Sierra Northern Railway on
the development of three hydrogen-powered “switching
locomotives
.” An exciting milestone for the US in the
journey to hydrogen-powered transportation!

5. Personal Vehicles

Nine of the major auto manufacturers are developing hydrogen
fuel cell electric vehicles (HFCEVs) for personal use. Notable
models on the market or in development include the Toyota
Mirai
,
Honda CR-V
, Hyundai Nexo, and BMW iX5.

6. Planes

Several experimental projects like the Pathfinder and Helios prototypes have explored
application of hydrogen fuel cells in aerospace. These
long-range unmanned vehicles utilized a hybrid system with hydrogen
fuel cells which were replenished by electrical power from solar
arrays, in theory allowing for continuous day and night flight.

Commercial flights are making progress as well. Airbus, Beyond Air, and ZeroAvia are all
working to have models available for test flights or commercial use
by 2025.

7. Backup Power Generation

At a local level, stationary fuel cells are used as part of
uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, where continuous uptime
is critical. Both hospitals and data centers are increasingly
looking to hydrogen to meet their uninterruptible power supply
needs. In 2020, Microsoft made headlines with a successful test of
its new hydrogen backup generators, running one data center’s servers on nothing
but hydrogen for two days.

8. Mobile Power Generation

Hydrogen offers versatile options for mobile power generation.
In fact, some of the earliest hydrogen fuel cells were developed by
NASA to provide electricity for rockets and shuttles in space.

New applications are emerging, too: In 2022, General Motors announced plans to use hydrogen
fuel cells to power mobile generators.

9. Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs)

From package delivery to search and rescue operations, many new
applications of UAVs (i.e. drones) are significantly limited by the
power and range provided by traditional batteries. Both military and private industry are overcoming
these challenges with hydrogen fuel cells with up to three times
the range of battery-based systems. Fuel cells also have a higher
energy-to-mass ratio and can be refueled in a few minutes.

10. Boats And Submarines

Hydrogen fuel cells have found their way into a number of marine
applications. Some boats like the Energy Observer even use onboard solar panels
and wind turbines to generate their own hydrogen for a fuel cell
system. For military stealth submarines like the German Type 212, hydrogen fuel cells offer an
alternative to nuclear power with long-range, silent cruising, and
low exhaust heat.

1429452c.jpg

Toyota and Hino are
currently developing a series of hydrogen fuel cell electric
trucks. Image courtesy of Toyota.

Safety Challenges Posed By Hydrogen Fuel Cell Systems

Before hydrogen can see widespread adoption as an alternative
fuel, hydrogen must overcome several key obstacles:

Extreme Conditions

Hydrogen has a relatively low volumetric energy density, meaning
that it must be stored in large quantities for any practical
application as a fuel. To compensate, modern transportation
applications are pushing the limits of technology with higher
pressures and extreme cryogenic temperatures.

Public Perception

Notable incidents like the Hindenburg have left their mark on
the industry — despite the fact that hydrogen wasn’t
actually the major contributor of the incident. Although
today’s hydrogen applications are very different, industry will
have to work diligently to correct public perception and update
many local regulations that limit the use of hydrogen.

Infrastructure

Cities, highways, airports and more will require significant
infrastructure changes to accommodate hydrogen storage,
transportation and refueling. Handling of hydrogen on such a large
scale represents logistical challenges and fire/explosion
hazards.

1429452d.jpg

Coradia
iLint
is the first passenger train powered by a
hydrogen fuel cell. In September 2022 it traveled 1,175 km (730
miles) without refueling its hydrogen tank. Image courtesy of

Alstom.

WHA Supports Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology

For decades, WHA has worked with industry partners to overcome
the safety challenges associated with hydrogen. Our scientists and
engineers are intimately familiar with the unique risks of
hydrogen, having been involved in the creation of multiple global
standards.

Many of WHA’s founding engineers began their careers at
NASA, including WHA’s Principal Chemist, Dr Harold Beeson. WHA Mechanical and Forensic Engineer, Dr. Dani
Murphy
, also brings a wealth of experience from the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory
, where she was involved in research for
hydrogen fuel cells and infrastructure.

What’s more, WHA continues to partner with both government
and private organizations to provide failure analysis, hazard analysis and design support, custom testing, and technical training for hydrogen.

For these new applications of hydrogen fuel cells to progress,
industry leaders must partner with qualified hydrogen safety experts like WHA. A safer,
cleaner future is waiting.

Originally published October 27th, 2020.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.



The article was first published here

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