What are Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs)?


Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) run on hydrogen, offering improved efficiency compared to conventional internal combustion engine vehicles, with zero harmful emissions. However, the development of FCEVs and the necessary hydrogen infrastructure is still in its early stages. The U.S. Department of Energy is leading research efforts to establish hydrogen-powered vehicles as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and secure transportation option.

Hydrogen also qualifies as an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and is eligible for tax credits intended for alternative fuel vehicles.

How Do Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Work Using Hydrogen?

Similar to fully electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) use electricity to power an electric motor. The key distinction lies in their reliance on a fuel cell, powered by hydrogen, to generate electricity, rather than solely depending on a battery. Vehicle manufacturers determine the power capacity during the design phase, considering the size of the electric motor(s) and a combination of the fuel cell and battery.

Although some FCEVs can incorporate plug-in capabilities for recharging the battery, most current models primarily use the battery for purposes like regenerating braking energy, providing extra power during acceleration, and stabilizing the power supply from the fuel cell. They can also idle or deactivate the fuel cell during periods of low power demand. The energy stored on board is directly linked to the size of the hydrogen fuel tank, distinguishing them from all-electric vehicles where the power and energy available correlate with the battery’s size.

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