How Hydrogen Cars Work ?

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The number of vehicles on the road is skyrocketing with the time. As per the society of India Automobile Manufacturers, about 26 million vehicles were sold in India in year 2018-19. As per some other reports, about 6 cars are sold every minute in India. These volumes are massive and the results  is visible in the form of overcrowded roads. The huge pollution created by these vehicles has become a great concern for the people. Automotive researchers all over the world are working hard to produce vehicles which can run on sustainable energy sources. Even governments are supporting  them in this endeavour. They have realized the great potential of hydrogen to be used as a clean source energy. This sector is also attracting huge investments, which is promoting the innovation and advancement of the existing technologies. The Hydrogen cars are less polluting and can cover long distance without refueling. The refueling of these cars can be done with in 5 minutes. This provide them an edge over the electric cars, which need to be charged for long hours before the rides. Today we will discuss about the technical details of hydrogen cars.

Types of Hydrogen Cars

Hydrogen can be used as fuel in two ways.  It can either be used directly for combustion as gasoline or can be used to power hydrogen fuel cells. Both these methods are clean and do not cause any carbon emission. They also decrease our dependency on fossil fuels.

1) Hydrogen Combustion Engine Cars

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  • A Four Stroke Engine

Hydrogen is a highly reactive gas, and burns easily in air. It also has a very high calorific vale, which makes it suitable for being used as a fuel. The Hydrogen combustion engines are very similar to the petrol engines. They have all the same parts as of 4 stroke engines, and they work on the same cycles. In these engines Hydrogen can be injected directly or through port injection method. These engines need special gas injectors to cater Hydrogen fuel.
These engines require better valves and gaskets to prevent any leakage of Hydrogen from the combustion chamber. They also require an engines oil which can work well at higher temperatures. These engines are easy to manufacture, since they can be built easily on the existing manufacturing setups. The greatest advantage of these engines is that, the combustion product of Hydrogen is pure water. Although these engines do not cause any carbon emissions, but the high temperature combustion leads to the emission on NOx. The ideal air- fuel ratio for Hydrogen is 34:1, but it can burn as lean as 180:1. The higher flame propagation speed and huge calorific value may cause overheating issues, which may lead to auto ignition of charge at the heated corners. The other disadvantage of Hydrogen is, its higher volume. If we are injecting Hydrogen a in air before the combustion chamber, at air- fuel ratio of 34:1 , it will occupy almost 30 percent of the space inside the combustion chamber. This will limit the space for Oxygen leading to poor efficiency of these engines. To eliminate this problem, direct injection is used in these engines. In case of direct injection,the combustion chamber is first filled with air and than the Hydrogen is injected. This ensures the proper air presence for combustion. To prevent over heating and NOx formation, these engines need to be run at lean air-fuel ratios. This reduces their power output. To match the power of gasoline engines, these engines has to be made larger. Some manufactures are also working on using water injectors in the Hydrogen combustion engines. The water injected along with fuel helps in cooling of the engine cylinder, preventing any possibility of premature ignition or NOx formation. This improves the efficiency of the engine by about 5 percent. 


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2) The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

The Hydrogen fuel cells are a hot topic today. The automobile giants like Toyota are investing a lot in building fuel cell based cars. These cars would be driven by a motor, which would be powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells. This technology has been used for a long period by NASA, for its space programs. These cars would have a sealed fuel tank to store pressurized Hydrogen. This Hydrogen and the Oxygen from atmospheric air would be used in the fuel cell to produce electric current. This current would power the motor and charge the battery. The emission from the fuel cells would consist only of water and nothing else. This will completely eliminate the emission of  pollutants like CO, NOx, PM and SOx from the vehicles. These vehicles  will cover 200-300 km on a single filling. Their efficiency would be far better than the gasoline or Hydrogen combustion engines. They would not have the reciprocating parts, which will eliminate the vibrations and the noise. They would not require long charging hours like electric cars. The driving experience of these cars would be just like the electric cars. But these cars would not have issues like fast battery  discharging in cold climate or long charging times as of their electric counterparts. 

How does a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Works ? 


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A hydrogen fuel cell is a combination of anode, cathode and a polymeric electrolyte. The polymeric electrolyte is also called proton filter membranes, since they allow only lprotons to move through them. The hydrogen fuel is supplied to the anode while Oxygen is supplied to the cathode. At anode the Hydrogen ionizes to produce an H+ ion and an electron. The H+(proton) moves through the polymeric membrane towards cathode. It do not allows electrons to move through it. The electron moves through an external circuit, to which them motor is connected. This moving electron is called current and it runs the motor, which helps in propelling the vehicle. The by product if the fuel cell is only pure water, which is non polluting. 

Toyota's Mirai


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Front Ducts For Air Intake

At the time when all the companies of the world are thinking about electrical vehicles, Toyota is busy working on Hydrogen fuel cell technology. It has made a significant improvement in this field. Toyota's Mirai is a futuristic car based on fuel cell technology. It utilizes fuel cell stacks developed by Toyota to produce electricity.
This electricity is used to run the motor of the car. Each fuel cell stack consists of 370 cells of thickness 1.34 mm each. The cell stacks can generate a power of 114 kw. The stack is so small that it can be placed under the driver's seat. This lowers the centre of gravity of the car . The air needed for the cells is supplied through the ducts in the front of the car.


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For the storage of Hydrogen fuel, it uses a three layered tank. The internal layer is lined with polymer to hold the Hydrogen. The middle layer is made of carbon reinforced polymers to provide strength to the tank. The outer layer is made from glass reinforced polymers to prevent abrasion.  The Hydrogen us filled in the tank  at a pressure of 70 MPa and it can store about 5 kg of Hydrogen at the same. The total internal volume of the tanks is 122.4 litres and it takes about 5 minutes to fill it. As claimed by the company, this car can go up to 312 miles in a single filling . The top speed of the car is 111 mph and it can accelerate from 0  to 60 km/hr  in 9 seconds. 

The Hydrogen car is a futuristic concept. In spite of being so useful, they are out of the reach of common man. The availability of the Hydrogen gas is the greatest issue. A lot of research is going on in this field to make this technology viable. Hope we would soon see some remarkable developments in this area. 

1 comment:

  1. "This provide them an edge over the electric cars, which need to be charged for long hours before the rides."

    This is simply a lie. It has not been true for over a decade. Hydrogen has no advantage over battery electric. You can charge overnight at home, or you can waste time traveling to an expensive hydrogen station. Why would anyone want to do that?


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