A fuel cell is a cell that provides an electric current from a chemical reaction. Hydrogen fuel cells are just fuel cells that use hydrogen to provide this electric current.
HFCVs differ from conventional engines. Rather than using gasoline or diesel as a fuel, they combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity which runs a motor. Given that the motors in a HFCV only runs on electricity, they can be considered as electric vehicles as well (EVs) but with a much better range and refuelling capability that is more similar to a conventional engine.
The only byproducts from converting hydrogen into electricity are water and hear, meaning that they don’t create pollution like the greenhouse gases we have come to expect from fossil fuel engines. (Even the dirtiest Hydrogen is 30% cleaner than gasoline).
Refuelling a HFCV can be done in less than 10 minutes in current models and on a full tank will do 200-300 miles just like their gasoline/diesel counterparts. Also, they are much more feasible for all driving uses in comparison to other ‘green’ alternatives, with battery-electric vehicles taking much longer to recharge for lower mileages.
What’s actually going on?
Well, the fuel cell is houses a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) cell which uses both hydrogen and oxygen gas as fuel. When they react together, they produce water, heat and crucially electricity. This is done via an electrolysis process – chemical reaction which is induced by the passing of an electric current through a liquid or solution that contains ions: