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Fuel Cell Vehicles - Fuel Cell Transportation

Potential Applications

Fuel cells can be used to provide propulsion or auxiliary power for many transportation applications. Aside from spacecraft, which typically use alkaline fuel cells for onboard power, polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells are the primary type used in transportation.

Photo of a Ford fuel cell vehicleHighway vehicles. Since highway vehicles account for a large share of petroleum use, carbon dioxide (a primary greenhouse gas) emissions, and air pollution, advances in fuel cell power systems for vehicles could substantially improve our energy security and air quality. While fuel-cell-powered cars are not yet available commercially, almost every major auto manufacturer has a fuel-cell vehicle program, with various targets for demonstration between 2003 and 2006.

Photo of a fuel cell busOther highway-based applications include large passenger buses and long-haul trucks. Fuel cell auxiliary power units (APUs) for commercial trucks could also reduce energy use and emissions, since these vehicles must often run while idle to provide electricity for refrigeration, heaters and air conditioners, and sleeper compartment accessories.

Photo of a fuel cell mining locomotiveOther surface transportation. Other potential surface transportation applications include rail locomotives, mining locomotives, scooters, and personal mobility vehicles for the disabled.

Aerospace. Fuel cells are often used in aerospace applications. They have been used to provide auxiliary power in spacecraft since the 1960s all 18 Apollo missions and over 100 Space Shuttle missions. Other similar applications include powering near-Earth orbit (NEO) satellites.

Marine vessels. Ships and submarines are another possible application for fuel cells, providing both propulsion and auxiliary power. Recreational and personal watercraft may also be powered by fuel cells.

Current Applications

Few fuel-cell-powered transportation products are currently in use today; even fewer are available commercially. A handful of fuel-cell-based passenger cars have been leased to government and universities, but they are not yet available for sale to the public. About 200 auxiliary power units have been used in U.S. and Russian spacecraft.

Demonstration Projects & Programs

Fuel cell vehicle demonstrations are currently underway in the United States, with federal, state, and local government entities partnering with industry. Most of these demonstration projects are evaluating the performance of cars, light-duty trucks, and transit buses.

California Fuel Cell Partnership

In the United States, the majority of fuel cell vehicle demonstrations for passenger cars and trucks are being conducted in cooperation with the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP). CaFCP is a collaboration of auto companies, fuel providers, fuel cell technology companies, and government agencies (including DOE and EPA) demonstrating fuel cell electric vehicles in California under day-to-day driving conditions. The goals of the partnership are to test and demonstrate the viability of FCVs and related technology under real-world conditions, move them toward commercialization, and increase public awareness. The Partnership expects to place about 60 FCVs and fuel cell buses on the road by 2003.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Evaluation for California Transit Agencies

Three California transit agencies are initiating an internationally recognized fuel cell demonstration. AC Transit, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and SunLine Transit Agency will add state-of-the-art hydrogen fuel cell buses to their fleets and set up infrastructure facilities for fueling and maintenance.

The demonstration, which will run from 2004 to 2008, will include an extensive, multi-year evaluation program developed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the University of California-Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. Data will be collected, analyzed, and compared to other fuel cell bus programs internationally. NREL will maintain a central repository for this information, which will be made available on the NREL and AC Transit Web sites.

Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle Demonstration with California Universities

Toyota is conducting a fuel cell vehicle demonstration study with two California universities: the University of California, Davis (UCD) and the University of California, Irvine (UCI). As of December 2002, Toyota is leasing a total of six "market-ready" hydrogen hybrid fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) based on its Highlander SUV platform to these two universities so that they can be evaluated under real-world driving conditions. The demonstration program will span three years, with each vehicle being driven for 30 months. The demonstration will allow Toyota to get feedback from drivers, as well as increase pubic awareness of fuel cell technology.

Honda Fuel Cell Vehicle Demonstration with City of Los Angeles

Honda is conducting a fuel cell vehicle demonstration with the City of Los Angeles. The city will lease the first of five Honda FCX hydrogen fuel cell vehicles beginning December 2002, with the other vehicles to follow in 2003. Los Angeles City Hall employees will use the vehicles as pool cars and for commuting. The demonstration will allow Honda to evaluate the vehicles under real-world driving conditions and get feedback from customers. It may also accelerate public acceptance of these vehicles and help in the development of a refueling infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles.

First Fuel Cell Vehicle Coast-to-Coast Trip Completed

DaimlerChrysler demonstrated the viability of fuel cell vehicles by driving its methanol-powered NECAR coast-to-coast from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. The NECAR embarked on its cross-country drive on May 20, 2002, and arrived in the nation's capital on June 4, 15 days later. Methanol was delivered in advance to refueling points along the 3,263-mile route.

The NECAR 5, a Mercedes-Benz A Class equipped with a methanol-powered polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell system, can reach speeds of over 90 miles per hour and has a driving range of about 300 miles on a tank of fuel. The methanol is reformed onboard, producing hydrogen for the 100-hp fuel cell stack.

Low-Platinum Electrode Manufacturing Demonstration

During FY 2002, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), in cooperation with W.L. Gore and Associates, a leading supplier of membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) for PEM fuel cells, completed scale-up and demonstration of a high-volume pilot manufacturing process for electrode material, a crucial (and currently costly) element in the high-volume production of fuel cell MEAs. The key component of this process is a vacuum coating unit capable of producing large quantities of high-performance, ultra-low platinum per year and the potential for bringing MEA production costs below $10 per kilowatt.

A pilot manufacturing facility was installed which has the capability of catalyzing more than 100,000 square meters of electrode material per year on a two-shift basis. Several thousand square feet of electrode materials at 40 linear feet per minute have been manufactured and fabricated into MEAs, which were tested on reformate and pure hydrogen in single cells. The continuously produced MEAs compare favorably with baseline MEAs with much higher Pt loadings. Future work will focus on the durability of the low-platinum MEAs.