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What are fuel cell cars?

The Fuel Cell will Benefit Long-Distance Mobility The principle of the fuel cell is quite simple and was invented as long ago as 1838. If two platinum electrodes are dipped into a liquid and exposed to a flow of hydrogen and oxygen, an electric voltage can be measured.

The Fuel Cell will Benefit Long-Distance Mobility

Drive systems powered by fuel cells will help to provide acceptable driving ranges for electric mobility. If the hydrogen that is used as the source of energy is produced from regenerative resources, this alternative drive system is superior to battery-powered drive systems in many respects. However, a comprehensive infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations must be guaranteed.

The principle of the fuel cell is quite simple and was invented as long ago as 1838. If two platinum electrodes are dipped into a liquid and exposed to a flow of hydrogen and oxygen, an electric voltage can be measured. The fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts the reaction energy of a fuel (usually hydrogen) and an oxidizing agent (oxygen) into electric energy. In contrast to a storage battery, the fuel cell does not store energy, but converts it by converting the energy stored in hydrogen directly into electric energy with the aid of oxygen.

This energy can be stored in a lithium-ion storage battery and can be used to power an electric motor. Whereas battery-powered electric vehicles are confronted with the problem of limited driving ranges, an electric vehicle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell can achieve the ranges of a vehicle powered by a conventional internal combustion engine. Therefore, the fuel cell is seen as the ideal, zero-emission vehicle drive system of the future. As a rule, the efficiency of a fuel cell stack, which is made up of several hundred cells, is around 60 %. On average, a compact-class vehicle needs one kilogram of hydrogen to drive 100 km.

The Fuel Cell Drive System has Zero Emissions

These good characteristic values and the high efficiency of the fuel cell reduce the consumption of resources and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Research findings have shown that a vehicle powered by a fuel cell requires only around half as much energy per 100 km as a conventional vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Furthermore, it does not generate any nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, or hydrocarbons. Hydrogen drive systems can also solve the problem of particulate matter. That applies in particular to the transportation of goods by commercial vehicles.

Generally speaking, we can say that the bigger and heavier the vehicle is and/or the greater the range requirements are, the more suitable a fuel cell drive system will be. It makes sense to use it in light commercial vehicles and city buses in order to provide zero-emission mobility in urban situations in particular. In the long term, the fuel cell will also play an important role in heavy trucks.

Low-Temperature PEM Fuel Cell

In most cases, the low-temperature PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell is used. It has numerous advantages over other fuel cell types. For example, the solid, CO2-resistant electrolyte ensures that there is no leakage of aggressive liquids. What is more, in addition to its good dynamic behavior, the PEM fuel cell also has a sufficiently high energy density of more than 2.5 l/kW, making it suitable for use in cars.

The low operating temperature means that cheaper materials can be used. Furthermore, the lifetime of the cell increases and maintenance costs are lower. The design of the PEM fuel cell means that it can very easily be constructed as a modular system. Power outputs can range from just a few watts to several kW. In spite of the progress that has been made in the development of the fuel cell, the cost of a system is not yet on the same level as that of a conventional drive system with an internal combustion engine. However, the first vehicles from Asian carmakers such as Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai are already on the market.

Infrastructure with Sustainably Generated Hydrogen

In addition to systems for passenger cars, buses, and heavy trucks, developers are also working on a fuel cell drive system for motorcycles. However, high purchasing and maintenance costs have so far prevented its commercialization. What is more, battery technology has undergone further development to such an extent that the moderate power requirements of small two-wheeled vehicles in inner-city traffic can be better met by a storage battery. With the exception of a Suzuki that was launched in 2011, only prototypes currently exist.

As in the case of motorcycles, the success of fuel cell vehicles largely depends on the price of the PEM cell components. As large-scale mass production, particularly of the stacks, is ramped up and the proportion of platinum used for the fuel cell catalyst is reduced, the system as a whole will become cheaper. However, a further requirement is the sustainable production and widespread availability of hydrogen.

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For 77 years, MTZ – Motortechnische Zeitschrift has been the ideal forum for developers in the field of engines and drive trains. Whether it is the basic engine or the complete powertrain, thermodynamics or supercharging, downsizing or electrification – MTZ always offers the very latest solution concepts for powertrain development.

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Throughout the year one of the world’s most distinguished magazines on automotive engineering and engine technology focuses traditionally on topics from powertrains and internal combustion and hybrid engines. Also valuable information out of the field of friction, pistons and fuel as well as simulation and testing or materials play an important part in the magazine’s topic-list. Recently globally most prevailing matters like electric engines and fuel-cell technology, WLTP and RDE or even grid integration of E-Mobility are gaining an increasing importance within MTZ.

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Scientific advisory board

The scientific advisory board of MTZworldwide is made up of industry experts who work for leading companies and research institutions. By sharing ideas on a regular basis with the editorial team, the board members help to maintain the high qualitly of the magazine's content. The board provides the editorial team with first-hand information about the latest development trends and offers advice and constructive criticism.

Prof. Dr. techn. Christian Beidl
TU Darmstadt

Dr.-Ing. Ulrich Dohle
Rolls-Royce Power Systems AG

Dipl.-Ing. Markus Duesmann

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Lutz Eckstein

Dr.-Ing. Torsten Eder
Daimler AG

Dipl.-Ing. Friedrich Eichler
Volkswagen AG

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Geringer

Dipl.-Ing. Dietmar Goericke
­Verbrennungskraftmaschinen e.V.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Uwe Dieter Grebe
AVL List GmbH

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jens Hadler

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jürgen Hammer
Robert Bosch GmbH

Dr. Thomas Johnen
Adam Opel AG

Rainer Jückstock
Federal-Mogul Corporation

Prof. Dr. h. c. Helmut List
AVL List GmbH

Dipl.-Ing. Wolfgang Maus
Continental Emitec GmbH

Peter Müller-Baum

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Pischinger

Wolf-Henning Scheider
Mahle GmbH

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Schmalzl
Pankl-APC Turbosystems GmbH

Dr. Markus Schwaderlapp
Deutz AG

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ulrich Seiffert
WiTech Engineering GmbH

Dr. Michael Winkler
Hyundai Motor Europe
Technical Center GmbH

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