Fuel cells to power up the future transport systems

By: Sarath Madhu

Revolutionary changes are taking place in the field of the automotive industry [9] all over in the blink of an eye. Internal combustion engines are getting substituted by hybrid electric vehicles, Electric vehicles (EVs), etc. In this era, a newer technology that is developing in this domain is called Fuel-cell vehicles(FCVs) [1]. The possibility of higher efficiency very less emissions has long attracted interest in fuel cells as the possible vehicle engine of the future with an environmentally acceptable design. Nonetheless, deliberate attempts to exploit the efficiency and emission advantages of fuel cells in the transportation industry have occurred during the last decade. This type of system is mainly used to integrate with heavy-duty vehicles and public transportation systems and is expected to be popular within a couple of years.

When we are thinking about fuel cells, they work like batteries which do not need charging, instead, they generate power as long as the fuel is available in the form of  chemical reaction taking place within the cell. Among fuel cells hydrogen fuel cells are commonly studied and used in space stations. However, the primary type of cell for automotive applications is the polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell, in which a +ve electrode (cathode) and a -ve electrode (anode) sandwiched the electrolyte membrane. Not only proton exchange membrane (PEM) cells, but also alkaline fuel cells, phosphoric acid fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are also gaining importance for automotive propulsion applications. They are getting popular due to the features like easy start at ordinary temperatures below 100⁰C, relatively high power density and smaller size, ruggedness to the shock and vibrations, simple structure, and maintenance. They are used more in heavy duty vehicles these days because the fuel cells systems currently available are quite heavier than diesel and CNG system. Nevertheless, it is very much expected that smaller versions suitable for lighter vehicles will be introduced very soon.

A hydrogen fuel cell’s operation is quick and easy to understand. To get the necessary hydrogen, a reformer is used to convert a hydrocarbon fuel into hydrogen. In a fuel cell, the anode receives hydrogen-rich gas from the reformer. Hydrogen may be stored in a pressurized cylinder in the car rather than having to use a reformer to make it. The cathode fuel cell receives the oxygen (or air). The dc output voltage and water are byproducts of the reaction between the hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel cell stack. The resulting direct current (dc) is either stored in a battery or utilized to power the car directly through a power conditioner [2].

The FCV system block diagram is shown in figure 1, which explains how the configuration is made for integrating the cell to power the vehicle. Here, the cell output voltage is connected with a power conditioning unit which will make the output compatible to charge the battery and power the high and low voltage loads simultaneously [3]. A high voltage battery is charged using the cell because the cell produces the output voltage continuously even if the vehicle is not in motion. Likewise, this high voltage is directly fed to high voltage loads and low voltage loads are fed with this voltage after passing through a DC/DC converter. This is a general idea, how FCV works and is configured [4].

Figure 1: Block diagram of Fuel-Cell Vehicle Configuration

However, this is an area that needs large research and studies since many questions are still to be answered and solved [5]. Problems include,

  • The fuel cells continuously produce power whenever hydrogen fuel is provided.
  • The high power generated from the fuel cell must be efficiently used and converted and utilized by the system [6].
  • serious concern is about hydrogen transportation and storage, which need safe storage and transportation.

These are the major research areas related to fuel cells and as soon as researchers in this area tackle the above-mentioned problems, FCVs will no longer be a dream[7][8]. In addition to that , integration of newer technologies like the Internet of things, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud computing, etc. are also in the way of implementing in fuel cell vehicles for better monitoring of the entire system and for the smart communication with the user.


  1. Al-Amin, A. Q., & Doberstein, B. (2019). Introduction of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: prospects and challenges for Malaysia’s transition to a low-carbon economyEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research26(30), 31062-31076.
  2. Ahluwalia, R. K., Wang, X., Rousseau, A., & Kumar, R. (2004). Fuel economy of hydrogen fuel cell vehiclesJournal of Power Sources130(1-2), 192-201.
  3. Hames, Y., Kaya, K., Baltacioglu, E., & Turksoy, A. (2018). Analysis of the control strategies for fuel saving in the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy43(23), 10810-10821.
  4. Emadi, A., Williamson, S. S., & Khaligh, A. (2006). Power electronics intensive solutions for advanced electric, hybrid electric, and fuel cell vehicular power systemsIEEE Transactions on power electronics21(3), 567-577.
  5. Mori, D., & Hirose, K. (2009). Recent challenges of hydrogen storage technologies for fuel cell vehiclesInternational journal of hydrogen energy34(10), 4569-4574.
  6. Emadi, A., & Williamson, S. S. (2004, June). Fuel cell vehicles: opportunities and challenges. In IEEE Power Engineering Society General Meeting, 2004. (pp. 1640-1645). IEEE.
  7. Al-Amin, A. Q., & Doberstein, B. (2019). Introduction of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: prospects and challenges for Malaysia’s transition to a low-carbon economyEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research26(30), 31062-31076.
  8. Ajanovic, A., & Haas, R. (2019). Economic and environmental prospects for battery electric‐and fuel cell vehicles: a review. Fuel cells19(5), 515-529.
  9. Fatemidokht, H., Rafsanjani, M. K., Gupta, B. B., & Hsu, C. H. (2021). Efficient and secure routing protocol based on artificial intelligence algorithms with UAV-assisted for vehicular ad hoc networks in intelligent transportation systems. IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, 22(7), 4757-4769.

Cite this article as

Sarath Madhu (2022), Fuel cells to power up the future transport systems, Insights2Techinfo, pp. 1

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