How to Improve Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Reposting and old article. Hydrogen fuel cell cars offer an alternative to combustion engines & electric vehicles, boasting fast refueling & comparable range. This research addresses water management issues in fuel cells, enhancing performance & scalability. Learn more in this post

Rodrigo M. Ortiz de la Morena

10/12/20172 min read

Components necessary for a hydrogen car, taken from the expaliner video
Components necessary for a hydrogen car, taken from the expaliner video

In many countries, the growing concern over the need for alternatives to combustion engine cars has sparked significant interest. While hybrid and electric vehicles have garnered attention as viable solutions, hydrogen fuel cell cars emerged as a compelling third option when Hyundai and Honda introduced their commercially available models in 2015.

Despite the allure of electric cars, challenges such as battery capacity and long recharging times have hindered their widespread adoption as a complete replacement for combustion engine vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell cars offer a promising alternative, boasting a higher energy density that enables driving ranges comparable to traditional cars. Moreover, refueling these vehicles is as simple and fast as refueling combustion engine cars, leveraging existing infrastructure designed for petroleum-based fuel distribution, which could facilitate the transition to hydrogen technology.

Operating by combining hydrogen with oxygen from the air in a fuel cell, hydrogen fuel cell cars utilize a catalyst to convert this reaction into electricity, offering a more efficient alternative to combustion engines. However, one significant challenge that remains is water management within the fuel cell. Achieving optimal moisture levels is essential for proton transfer, but excessive water can suffocate the cell by preventing oxygen from reaching the cathode.

Efforts to address this challenge have led to innovations in gas diffusion layers, which play a crucial role in facilitating the exchange of water and air within the fuel cell. Recent advancements in this area have improved performance and scalability, with methods allowing for the creation of specific pathways for air and water within the same membrane. This flexibility in design and scalability brings promise for further advancements in fuel cell technology. X-ray images and neutron spectroscopy provide valuable insights into membrane characteristics and water behavior, enhancing our understanding of fuel cell dynamics.

Scientific illustrations and explainer videos play a crucial role in elucidating these advancements, offering a visual representation of complex concepts. For those interested in delving deeper into this groundbreaking research, watch the explainer video, which provides a concise summary. Additinally find links to the open-access papers that cover part of the work done by Dr. Atoni Forner Cuenca during his PhD at ETH Zurich.