Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles

Fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) history. Most major automobile companies have been developing fuel cell electric vehicles since the early 1990’s.  President Clinton introduced the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) on September 29, 1993, which had as one goal to increase fuel economy by a factor of three.  The car companies began developing FCEVs to meet that PNGV challenge.  President Bush subsequently endorsed the hydrogen-powered FCEV in several State of the Union speeches.

In September 2009, seven car companies (Daimler, Ford, GM/Opel, Honda, Hyundai/KIA, Renault/Nissan and Toyota) signed a letter of understanding that they would aim to produce a “few” hundred thousand FCEVs by the 2015 time period.

Energy and car companies also signed a letter in September 2009 committing to providing the necessary hydrogen fueling equipment to support the FCEVs in Germany.

FCEV attributes. The FCEV is the next major step in the electrification of vehicles, a process that began when Toyota and Honda first introduced hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) that added a small electric motor to augment the internal combustion engine (ICE) still running on gasoline. The FCEV takes the next step, eliminating the ICE entirely.  The major advantages of a hydrogen-powered FCEV include:

  1. Zero tailpipe emissions
    • No volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
    • No carbon monoxide (CO)
    • No nitrogen oxides (NOx)
    • No tailpipe particulate matter (PM)
    • No carcinogenic compounds
    • No sulfur oxides (SOx)

    Zero petroleum consumption

    The potential for lower vehicle cost in the long run (a FCEV has 90% fewer moving parts than the internal combustion engine with its many pistons, valves, rocker arms, pulleys, pumps, belts etc.)

    The potential for zero, near-zero or even negative greenhouse gas emissions (depending on the source of hydrogen; GHGs could be negative using biomass gasification with carbon capture and storage to produce the hydrogen.  In that case the biomass would absorb GHGs when it was grown, and most of that CO2 would be buried underground at the gasification plant.)


What is a fuel cell? A fuel cell generates electricity from hydrogen and oxygen without any moving parts.  A fuel cell is similar to a car battery. Both produce electricity. Both have two electrodes, an anode and a cathode.  Both are connected to electric motor(s) to propel an automobile.

A battery derives its energy essentially by cannibalizing its electrodes; once the chemical reactions have depleted most of the active ingredients of the electrode, the battery loses power and must be recharged.

A fuel cell, however, continues to produce electricity as long as it is supplied with fuel... hydrogen at the anode and oxygen (from air) at the cathode.  Hydrogen and oxygen combine without any combustion in an electrochemical reaction to form water, the only “exhaust” from a fuel cell system. The efficiency of converting hydrogen and oxygen to electricity is typically two to three times that of a gasoline engine.

GM Equinox FCEV

General Motors Equinox FCEV

Toyota FCHV-adv (FCEV version of Highlander SUV)

Honda Clarity FCX FCEV

Mercedes F-Cell B-Class FCEV

Vision FC truck
Vision Industry Company Class 8 Fuel Cell Truck
Boeing 737 ecoDemonstrator

Boeing 737-800 “ecoDemonstrator” that uses a regenerative fuel cell to produce hydrogen from excess electricity during climb and cruise that is later used to provide electricity for auxiliary components thereby improving efficiency and reducing fuel consumption.

Bristol UK H2 Boat

Bristol UK Hydrogen Fuel Cell Passenger Boat

Ford Edge SUV prototype FCEV (This is the first plug-in FCEV)

Hyundai Tucson SUV FCEV

Nissan Terra FCEV

Fuel Cell Electric Bus in Brazil


Amsterdam canal boat

Amsterdam fuel cell canal boat

[Alternative Vehicles Compared] [Societal Threats] [Alternative Vehicle Choices] [Hybrid Electric Vehicles] [Plug-In Hybrids] [Bio-Fuel Plug-ins] [Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles] [Battery Electric Vehicles] [Simulation Assumptions] [Simulation Results] [Batteries or Fuel Cells?] [Hydrogen Safety] [FAQ] [Natural Gas Vehicles] [Links] [About Us] [Contact Us]

© C. E. Thomas 2009-2013