In the face of escalating environmental concerns, zero-emissions vehicles are more critical than ever. Fuel cell electric cars are one of the most promising options, offering longer ranges and shorter refuelling times than battery-powered ones. Despite this, there are still some obstacles in the way of widespread fuel cell adoption.
A lot of research focuses on improving fuel cells themselves, increasing their storage and affordability. Addressing other parts of the system can also help make them a more practical technology, though. For instance, making better air compressors can make fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) more efficient.
Here’s a closer look at where air compressor technology is headed in the quest for better fuel cells.
The Relationship Between Fuel Cells and Air Compressors
Like many other features in cars, fuel cells depend on a system of different technologies to be their most effective. The fuel cell itself just converts chemical reactions into electricity, so it needs things like fuel sources too. One of those necessities is a supply of oxygen to react with the hydrogen.
Since fuel cells rely on the chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen, they need a constant stream of O2 to work. Air compressors are one of the most popular methods of providing that oxygen stream. The faster the air compressor, the quicker the attached fuel cell can generate electricity.
By improving air compressor technology, researchers can likewise improve the performance of fuel cells. The reverse is also true, as inefficient, expensive or oversized compressors make FCEVs less appealing. For FCEVs to overtake other options, they need more advanced air compressors.
Developments in Air Compressor Technology
The chief advantage of FCEVs is their sustainability, so engineers need to keep energy usage in mind. As necessary as air compressors are, they’re one more system that requires energy, so they need to be efficient. If, for example, a compressor’s lines leak, it can waste up to 30% of its electricity output.
More advanced control systems for compressors can alert drivers of any leaks or other faults. That way, they can tend to these issues before they cost them too much energy loss. Similarly, these controllers can monitor performance to ensure the compressor is achieving its maximum output.
The 2018 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell features a two-stage air compressor that allows for a smaller fuel cell stack. Since the compressor is more efficient, the stack can be 30% smaller, giving passengers more room. With improvements like these, FCEVs will become more marketable, meaning higher sales, which leads to more money for research.
The Road to Cleaner Cars
It still may be several years before FCEVs are efficient and affordable enough to penetrate the market. Research addressing more areas of these vehicles than just the cells themselves will help, though. Improving features like air compressors can help make the same fuel cells more efficient.
It will take more than research in one technology to make zero-emission vehicles the new standard. Improvements in components like air compressors are necessary, too. With more advanced air compressors, though, the future of widespread FCEVs could come sooner than you might think.