Fuel cells have the power to revolutionize the world. With their zero-emission technology, this type of energy can improve the automotive industry, reducing harmful carbon dioxide emissions. However, before it can reach such game-changing levels, hydrogen fuel cell developers are still working out some of the logistics on efficiency. New tracking changes can then give fuel cell tech the momentum it needs to take off.
Meeting Efficiency Standards
The need for clean energy is stronger than ever, especially for vehicles. In 2018, transportation accounted for 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the highest of any industry. Thus, fuel cells present a much more environmentally-friendly dynamic, with no harmful emissions. However, to make them a standard in the industry, they must be efficient in every sense of the world.
To best track fuel efficiency, fuel cell experts must account for water vapor, heat and materials. Moreover, fuel cells must match or exceed the Department of Energy’s (DOE) standards for efficiency if this newer technology is to overtake gas cars. Fortunately, fuel cell technology is already off to a good start.
Compared to standard gas-combustion engines, fuel cells have a strong lead in efficiency. Fuel cell vehicles have more than triple the efficiency of combustion engines, since they use and conserve materials better. Thus, drivers get more efficiency per mile.
On top of the existing efficiency, the national shift to cleaner energy is also bringing fuel cells into the spotlight. Massachusetts recently joined California in saying they will phase out new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, turning towards cleaner options.
Each of these factors comes together to push the automotive industry in a more sustainable direction. Still, to continuously improve upon existing fuel cells and keep the ball rolling, experts must develop ways to track and monitor efficiency levels.
How Fuel Cells Are Changing
Recent developments from researchers are making it easier to both adopt and track fuel cell efficiency in vehicles. As these new ideas take off, they improve the road ahead for clean tech in the automotive industry.
Tracking technology provides a significant amount of information about efficiency. For instance, tracking standard vehicles brings to light that the idling of combustion vehicles emits 11 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. From this tracking data, experts can then focus on improvements.
That same concept translates to hydrogen fuel cells. Inefficient models will give off excess heat. Other times, the byproduct of water vapor during the process can halt the reaction in the fuel cells if the reaction occurs too slowly. This failure renders the vehicle inefficient.
Newer sensing technologies produce data that car manufacturers can track and take action from. If the fuel cell conversation gives off too much heat, experts can use the data to pinpoint exactly why.
Making strides through new tech, a team of researchers from UCLA, Caltech and Ford Motor Company claims to exceed the DOE’s efficiency targets. The team recently filed a patent for their latest fuel cell engine that uses solar power to convert water into hydrogen that the car can then run on. The team also solved the issue of engine sluggishness and failure by quickly carrying away the water vapor away from the engine.
Such a progressive accomplishment would not have been possible without the right technology to track the efficiency of the fuel cells.
Improvements Moving Forward
Though improvements are already underway, there’s still a ways to go before the industry, and the world, can adopt fuel cells. Costs must decrease for hydrogen vehicles and fueling cell stations must become widely abundant. The technology already is coming together to make these vehicles as practical and efficient as possible. It will take a wide-scale shift to clean energy to phase out combustion engines and move forward with fuel cells.
Jane Marsh writes on green technology and renewable energy topics and works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co.