The Future Looks Bright for Fuel Cell Technology
Fuel cell technology is expected to offer reliability, safety, and efficiency over other combustion-based power technologies. Few technologies which are gaining traction in the field of fuel cells are proton exchange membrane, phosphoric acid fuel cells, steam methane reforming, microbial fuel cell, absorption chillers and others.
The proton exchange membrane fuel cell is comprised of platinum based electrodes and an acidic polymer membrane. To meet the dynamic power requirement, the proton exchange membrane fuel cell operates at low temperature i.e. below 100 degree celsius. The usage of metal based electrode at low temperature requires the cell operate at very low temperature.
The first gen fuel cells are considered to be phosphoric acid fuel cells. The R&D from public institutions and national government has gained significant attention in the past for phosphoric acid fuel cells. The intolerance for CO2 had a direct impact on the acidic fuel cells disappointing performance. The phosphoric acid fuel cells were not able to address the shortcomings. In addition, the cost of the technology was difficult to reduce. United Technologies Corp estimated the cost of approximately US $3000. The cost is the main challenge for the adoption on phosphoric acid fuel cells.
The concept of a vehicle generating its own energy will soon transform the automotive industry into a zero waste industry. The fuel cell stacks can act as a battery to power electric motors and wheels and the extra energy generated can be stored to be utilized for other hard operations or for operating on difficult terrains. The technology will first be adopted in Japan.
Japan is a leader in terms of adopting new alternative fuel technology. It was the first to embrace hybrid electric technology. The local OEMs and the government have pushed the standardization initiative for electric powertrain on the global level. Furthermore, the government of Japan is also encouraging the usage of hydrogen fuel technology for transportation applications. The government is also planning to offer purchase incentives and develop infrastructure by investing approximately $380m. The purchase incentive is expected to be provided from 2020 and $1m is expected to be spent on each filling station.
Honda and Toyota are leading the industry with respect to developments in fuel cell technology. Honda has developed a turbo air compressor to produce a hydrogen-air mixture, which further helps generate electricity for propulsion. Furthermore, Toyota was able to reduce the size of fuel cell and achieve high output power, at the same time, the company was able to reduce the total system production cost.
The major hurdle for the growth of fuel cell technology is the lack of proper infrastructure. At present, the installation of a hydrogen pressure nozzle for generation and storage will take anywhere between $800K to $1m. There is a need to address the technological and cost issues behind infrastructure development for fuel cell adoption. There is a need to create a new modular approach to set up fuel stations.
The subsidies provided by the governments to purchase electric vehicles will phase out soon. That is the time when the industry will witness a marked shift towards fuel cell technology. The technology will slowly capture the market and witness exponential growth from 2025 onwards. In the U.S., Department of Energy is aiming at launching 500,000 fuel cars on roads by 2030. On the other hand, the Japanese government is also planning to initiate development programs as soon as possible before the Tokyo Olympics. The government is aiming for 160 fuel stations and more than 6,000 FCEVs by 2020.
The emerging market will respond well to the Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) technology given that electric vehicles were not able to make a mark on emerging territories. Support from governments will be enough to increase adoption, and strong incentives would provide further impetus to the growth of the technology.