Hydrogen Fuel Cell: Everything you Need to Know Future of Vehicles

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The vehicles get their power from a hydrogen-powered fuel cell rather than a battery; if successful, the programme might help India decrease its carbon impact.

Indian Railways plans to run trains on hydrogen fuel-based technology by 2030 as part of the ‘Mission Net Zero Carbon Emission Railway.’ It is exploring adapting existing trains for this purpose.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has issued guidelines for the safety evaluation of Hydrogen Fuel Cell-Based Cars in order to make a strong push for hydrogen vehicles in the country. This would make it easier to promote hydrogen fuel cell-powered automobiles throughout the country.

What exactly is hydrogen fuel?

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Students that are interested in Chemistry should be familiar with the term Hydrogen. We’ll talk about hydrogen fuel in this section. Most people are aware that the unique element of hydrogen shares some properties with both halogens and alkali metals. The popularity of hydrogen fuel is growing as a result of the huge quantity of heat produced by this fuel during burning.

Although hydrogen is the primary fuel, fuel cells also require oxygen. One of the great advantages of fuel cells is that they produce very little pollution — much of the hydrogen and oxygen needed to produce power eventually mix to form a harmless byproduct, mainly water. Each fuel cell also contains an electrolyte, which transports electrically charged particles from one electrode to the other, as well as a catalyst, which speeds up electrode reactions.

The lightest and first element on the periodic table is hydrogen. Because hydrogen has a lower density than air, it rises in the atmosphere and is hence rarely encountered in its pure form, H2. Hydrogen is a nontoxic, nonmetallic, odourless, tasteless, colourless, and highly flammable diatomic gas at ordinary temperature and pressure. Hydrogen fuel is an oxygen-burning, zero-emission fuel. It is suitable for use in fuel cells as well as internal combustion engines. It is also utilised as a propulsion fuel for spaceships.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell may be a startling reality for most of us to learn that this fuel may produce more energy than diesel or gasoline. This indicates that a hydrogen fuel cell is roughly three times more efficient than a gasoline engine. Furthermore, as compared to the usage of gasoline, this fuel produces less pollutants.

Hydrogen Occurrence

Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. The sun and other stars are mostly made up of hydrogen. According to astronomers, hydrogen atoms account for 90% of all atoms in the cosmos. More chemicals include hydrogen than any other element. Water is the most prevalent hydrogen compound on the planet. Molecular hydrogen does not exist in readily accessible natural reserves on Earth. The vast majority of hydrogen on Earth is bound to oxygen in water and carbon in living, dead, and/or fossilised biomass. It is produced by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen.

What exactly is a hydrogen fuel cell?

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Hydrogen Fuel Cells explains how these fuel cells function, how they were created, and how they are becoming more widely used. Because hydrogen employs nitrogen as an impurity, the fuel contains nitrogen oxides as contaminants (here we are talking about the molecule of hydrogen and not the atom). Pollution can be reduced by adding a little water to the container to lower the temperature. The chemistry between oxygen and nitrogen would be stymied as a result.

A compressed hydrogen gas cylinder would be significantly heavier than a petrol tank carrying the fuel. The temperature must be reduced down to 20 K in order to cool the hydrogen gas into a liquid condition. It is difficult to use this fuel efficiently due to these limits. As a result, scientists all around the world are doing research to identify easy ways to utilise this fuel in the future.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell – Explained

Hydrogen and fuel cells are commonly thought to be inseparable since hydrogen-fueled FCs offer the highest performance and the least environmental effect of any FC. Hydrogen is a transporter of energy rather than a primary source of energy. There are no naturally occurring pure hydrogen reserves. To generate hydrogen, water can be electrolyzed in the opposite direction as the fuel cell process. Significant quantities of power are required to compel electrolysis to occur, much of which is currently supplied by the combustion of fossil fuels.

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However, not all hydrogen fuel cells are designed for use in automobiles. Stationary fuel cells for energy generation have been under research for decades. Some fuel cell uses for residential or commercial buildings might include the generation of electricity from fuel inputs such as natural gas or hydrogen, and the utilisation of waste heat from that process to heat the structure. Hydrogen atoms enter a fuel cell at an anode, where they are chemically stripped of their electrons. Hydrogen atoms have now been “ionised,” and they have a positive electrical charge. Current flows via wires thanks to negatively charged electrons. If alternating current (AC) is required, the fuel cell’s direct current (DC) output must be channelled via a conversion device known as an inverter.

The source of hydrogen is frequently referred to as the fuel, and it is this that gives rise to the fuel cell’s name, despite the fact that no combustion is involved. The hydrogen is then oxidised electrochemically in a very efficient manner. During oxidation, hydrogen atoms combine with oxygen atoms to generate water; electrons are liberated in the process and flow as electric current across an external circuit.

A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that uses hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, with water and heat as byproducts. In its most basic form, a single fuel cell comprises of two electrodes—an anode and a cathode—with an electrolyte in between. At the anode, hydrogen reacts with a catalyst, creating a positively charged ion and a negatively charged electron.

Also Read, All the Types of Electric Vehicle Batteries

Hydrogen production for Hydrogen Fuel Cell

In India, there are primarily three successful techniques for producing hydrogen for hydrogen fuel cells:

  • Gas (natural): Natural gas reforming is a sophisticated and mature manufacturing process that expands on the existing natural gas pipeline delivery infrastructure. Natural gas includes methane (CH4), which may be converted into hydrogen by thermal processes such as steam-methane reformation and partial oxidation.
  • Water splitting through thermochemistry: To make hydrogen and oxygen from water, it requires high temperatures generated by concentrated solar power or waste heat from nuclear power processes and chemical reactions. High-temperature heat (500°–2,000°C) is used to fuel a sequence of chemical processes that create hydrogen. Within each cycle, the chemicals used in the process are reused, resulting in a closed loop that consumes only water while producing hydrogen and oxygen.
  • Biomass-based production: Biomass is organic material that comprises agriculture crop leftovers, forest residues, special crops produced for energy consumption, organic municipal solid trash, and animal waste. By gasification, this renewable resource may be exploited to create hydrogen as well as other byproducts. Biomass gasification is a technological pathway that converts biomass to hydrogen and other products without burning by using a regulated process including heat, steam, and oxygen. Because growing biomass removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the net carbon emissions of this approach can be minimal, particularly when combined with long-term carbon collection, usage, and storage.

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Economy of Hydrogen

  • The concept of using hydrogen as a low-carbon energy source is referred to as the “hydrogen economy” or “economy of hydrogen.” For example, natural gas as a heating fuel or gasoline as a transportation fuel.
  • The fundamental advantage of this approach is that energy is transmitted using hydrogen rather than electricity.
  • To boost its efficiency, this fuel is now mixed with CNG gas. It is anticipated that it will be employed on a larger scale in the future years. This fuel is also utilised to generate power in hydrogen fuel cells.

The Benefits of HFC Over Internal Combustion Engines (ICE)

  • Energy loss in ICE: In an ICE, the chemical energy of hydrogen is first turned into thermal energy, and then the heat energy is transferred into mechanical energy, which is subsequently converted into electrical energy.
  • HFCs with higher efficiency: When energy is converted at a lower temperature, the loss is significantly smaller and the efficiency is higher.
  • Dual function: The fuel cell serves a dual purpose in that it can both power the vehicle and create backup power in the event of an emergency.

Vehicle with a Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine (HICEV)

A hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine (HICEV) powers a vehicle. Some variants are hybrids of hydrogen and gasoline. Vehicles powered by hydrogen internal combustion engines differ from hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (which use electrochemical use of hydrogen rather than combustion). The hydrogen internal combustion engine, on the other hand, is merely a modified version of the standard gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

To decrease its carbon imprint on the environment, India is prepared to test a new generation of electric vehicles fuelled by hydrogen fuel cells. National Thermal Power Corporation, the country’s largest power generator, intends to purchase such cars for test projects. Toyota and Hyundai Motor, as well as India’s Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, and KPIT Technologies, have expressed interest in the programme, according to the article.

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India’s INDC targets, which must be met mostly by 2030

To lower the GDP’s emissions intensity by around one-third. Non-fossil fuel sources will account for 40% of total installed capacity for power. India has committed an extra carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through increased forest and tree cover by 2030.

India’s Challenges:

  • One of the enormous obstacles that the industry has in commercialising hydrogen is the economic sustainability of harvesting green or blue hydrogen.
  • The technology employed in the production and use of hydrogen, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen fuel cell technology, is in its early stages and is costly, which raises the cost of hydrogen production.
  • Maintenance expenses for fuel cells after a facility is completed can be high, as shown in South Korea.
  • Commercial use of hydrogen as a fuel and in industries necessitates massive investment in research and development of such technologies, as well as infrastructure for production, storage, transportation, and demand generation for hydrogen.

How do FCEVs work?

FCEVs are electric cars that get their power from a hydrogen-powered fuel cell rather than a battery. Unlike traditional electric cars, in which the battery is the major source of vehicle traction, FCEVs employ electricity generated by hydrogen-powered fuel cells and rely on the battery for auxiliary activities like as starting the vehicle or storing energy gained by regenerative braking. As a result, FCEVs do not require a plug-in capability to charge the battery, but they do require hydrogen as a fuel to run.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell vs Lithium Ion Battery

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How it Works?

FCEVs should not be confused with hydrogen combustion automobiles, which employ hydrogen as a propulsion agent. The source of power in an FCEV and a BEV remains electricity. An FCEV, on the other hand, generates electricity while driving by employing a fuel cell and a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen is kept on-board in the same way that gasoline is in an internal combustion engine, and the fuel cell transmits the power created by the chemical reaction to the vehicle’s electric motor(s). Electricity is stored in a lithium-ion battery in BEVs, just like it is in any consumer electronic product, and then transmitted straight to one or more electric motors that move the vehicle.

Range and effectiveness

As things stand, hydrogen-powered EVs have the upper hand. Hydrogen has hundreds of times the energy per kilogramme as gasoline, giving a vehicle a far longer range without making it significantly heavier – a critical hurdle for BEVs, which cannot improve their range without increasing the vehicle’s weight.

Simply said, li-ion batteries do not have the same power density as a tank of hydrogen. A little increase in the size of a hydrogen tank may significantly increase the range. In comparison, every increase in the size of a li-ion battery is a self-defeating idea since the increased range must also account for the higher weight, diminishing overall efficiency.

With solid-state batteries on the road, BEVs might have a range of over 1000km — a game-changer when you consider that FCEVs have no breakthrough on the horizon. Solid-state batteries not only store more charge, but they also charge in roughly half the time of a current-generation li-ion battery.

While this is greater than the time required to refuel an FCEV, the increased range puts the attention back on li-ion batteries. However, the common perception is that FCEVs are better for long-distance trips, whereas BEVs are better for shorter trips. At the moment, the typical FCEV can outrun the average BEV by around 160 kilometres before running out of battery power.


Although the total range of a BEV and an FCEV is comparable, it is during refuelling that FCEVs outperform BEVs. Filling a tank with hydrogen takes the same amount of time as filling it with gasoline, saving critical minutes that might be deducted from the overall duration of your voyage.

While a Tesla Model S may be charged to 80 percent capacity in half an hour, a standard AC charger can take up to 5 hours to completely charge an EV. When you consider that a li-ion battery can only handle a limited number of quick charging cycles, hydrogen plainly wins in terms of sheer practicality.

The power density and refuelling durations of hydrogen are two of the primary reasons why it is revolutionising the commercial vehicle market. Long-distance transport trucks cannot have hefty batteries since it forces them to lower payload weight. A lesser battery would significantly lower the range and increase the overall time necessary to deliver cargo.


BEVs have a disadvantage in terms of durability. While most BEV manufacturers provide a warranty of up to 8 years or 160000km on their lithium-ion batteries, the batteries themselves can only withstand a certain number of charging cycles before losing their ability to retain electric charge, despite being protected by thermal management systems and battery buffers. At the end of its life cycle, a lithium-ion battery has significantly reduced range, and while it is changeable, it is always a costly proposition. Replacing a fuel cell is even more costly.

A fuel cell, on the other hand, has a life expectancy of 5000 hours or 240000km, giving it the advantage. Short-distance driving, on the other hand, causes extreme stress on a fuel cell’s membrane, which limits its lifespan, according to studies. Continuous driving, in which a fuel cell is not continually wetted and dried, would allow a fuel cell to last nearly 8 times as long as it does on average. As a result, it is significantly more suited to long-distance excursions when frequent pit breaks are not necessary.


After a century of utilising flammable fluid as fuel, it’s puzzling why we see hydrogen as a risky kind of propulsion. Toyota Mirai, Honda FCX Clarity, and Hyundai Nexo hydrogen cars have all been judged totally safe to drive and have had no serious mishaps. Over time, the same cannot be true for BEVs.

However, according to a publication published by the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, the storage and transportation of hydrogen, as well as the refuelling process, offer significant concerns. To offset the higher costs and dangers associated with shipping hydrogen, refuelling stations can create hydrogen on-site using renewable sources. In actuality, the risks of hydrogen-powered vehicles are primarily theoretical. For decades, hydrogen has been carried for industrial purposes, and there have been no significant mishaps involving huge FCEVs on the road. However, because compressed hydrogen is more dangerous than lithium-ion batteries, a BEV is a safer alternative.


FCEVs get this point. Hydrogen automobiles filter air as they move, leaving pristine air in their wake. FCEVs are definitely the most sustainable EVs, with abundant generation of green hydrogen for commercial and passenger cars. Unlike BEVs, they do not generate massive amounts of battery waste.


India is hardly the only country with a sluggish hydrogen infrastructure. With the exception of Japan and Germany, most nations have yet to construct a proper network of hydrogen stations.

According to J. Wind’s study publication “Compendium of Hydrogen Energy,” “around 200 hydrogen refuelling stations have been established globally; roughly 85 of them are situated in Europe and approximately 80 in the United States.” As a result, relatively few passenger car FCEVs are being made, and even fewer infrastructure businesses throughout the world are prepared to invest in transportation and the establishment of hydrogen refuelling stations. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation that can be addressed in part by government legislation.

India currently has no FCEVs for sale and, as a result, no hydrogen refuelling stations. Given the obvious infrastructure inadequacies, if a brand were to offer FCEVs to the market, there would be few to no takers. With the government’s proposed “National Hydrogen Mission” and Reliance’s announcement of two gigafactories dedicated to renewable hydrogen, it’s apparent that India aspires to be a worldwide powerhouse for manufacturing and exporting green hydrogen. It is, however, too early to speculate on whether that green hydrogen will be used to establish its own hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

India also intends to develop lithium-ion cells without relying on imports, making EVs significantly cheaper and hence simpler to adopt. Tata Chemicals, Exide Industries, and TDSG are emerging as India’s largest providers of lithium-ion batteries, and battery technology is expected to become considerably more affordable in the future years. BEVs are now gaining far more traction than FCEVs. All automobile manufacturers want to be totally electric by 2030-2035, but few have mentioned hydrogen.

However, some major manufacturers, like Toyota, Volkswagen, General Motors, Hyundai, and Honda, aren’t ruling out hydrogen as the fuel of the future and will continue to research FCEV technology in parallel, albeit at a slower pace. Until FCEVs become more popular and renewable hydrogen becomes more affordable to generate.

Current Cars that work on Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Mirai (Toyota)

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This coupe-inspired hydrogen-powered fuel cell-based electric car from the stables of Japanese automaker was launched in 2015 and has recently been upgraded to become one of the most competitive FCEVs in its category. The Mirai comes equipped with an 8-inch digital combination metre, a digital rearview mirror, a 12.3-inch high-resolution TFT touchscreen, and a 14-speaker JBL sound system. The automobile is only available in a few states, including California in the United States, Europe, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Clarity Fuel Cell by Honda

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The Honda Clarity Fuel Cell is one of three models available in the Japanese automaker’s Clarity line. The automobile, which is driven by a hydrogen-powered fuel cell-based electric engine, is believed to have a range of 360 miles on a full tank of hydrogen. The car offers heated exterior mirrors, an auditory vehicle alert system for pedestrian awareness of vehicles travelling at low speeds, seating for five people, the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assistive technologies, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The automobile is available for lease in a number of regions across the world, including California in the United States, Japan, and Europe.

NEXO by Hyundai

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This is one of the few SUV electric vehicles fueled by a hydrogen-driven fuel cell. The NEXO, like other Hyundai models, is crammed with goodies. It has advanced driver assistance systems, such as remote smart parking assist, lane following assist, blind-spot view monitor and surround-view monitors, blind-spot collision-avoidance help and rear cross-traffic accident avoidance help, a sunroof, electric parking brake, smart power tailgate, Qi wireless smartphone charging pad, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto inclusion, Text-to-Speech via Bluetooth, heated and ventilated front seats, and split-folding rear seats. In certain areas in South Korea, the United States, and Europe, the automobile is available for purchase with a down payment as well as on a lease.

Karan Kapoor

Karan Kapoor

62 articles published

Karan Kapoor is a motorhead and a big time muscle car enthusiast. His Body functions on a 7L V8, and he trains it to become a W16. He tends to stay in the Fast Lane and sometimes is a little furious about it too. From Maruti to Ferrari, his love of cars is not hindered by price but specs. For 2 Wheels he loves choppers and cafe riders over sports bikes His love for travel is also paved by the roads, and long journeys that he finds more intriguing than the destination. His love for speed is halted by the legality of NOS in India. Give him 2 Wheels or 4. He knows how to handle 'em all.