Fuel cells are becoming an increasingly viable power source, especially for vehicles. However, as more hydrogen options emerge, it’s important to consider their entire real-world impact. One primary example? Drivers and businesses should understand fuel cells’ maintenance requirements so they can make the most informed decisions.
What Maintenance Do Fuel Cells Need?
Fuel cells are a complex technology, so some people assume they’d be complicated and expensive to repair. However, for the most part, the opposite is true. Like their battery-electric counterparts, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) require relatively minimal maintenance.
The fuel cells themselves contain no moving parts, so they don’t need ongoing care apart from periodic inspections to ensure there’s no damage. Automakers typically offer warranties for the fuel cell stack, too, as they should last for the vehicle’s entire service life.
FCEVs do require maintenance on their non-fuel-cell-related parts. That includes tire rotations and changes, cabin filter changes, brake changes and refilling windshield fluid.
Despite not needing much regular maintenance, inspecting FCEVs or repairing damaged parts is more involved than other vehicles. While it’s possible to safely transport hydrogen by converting it into ammonia, the gas can pose risks if leaking in a confined space. Consequently, repair facilities must have proper ventilation to let leaking hydrogen escape. Hydrogen sensors and infrared cameras to detect fires and other leaking hazards may also be necessary.
How Often Do Fuel Cells Need Maintenance?
Since FCEVs are still relatively new and uncommon, guidance is sparse. It’s best to err on the side of caution and inspect hydrogen tanks and fuel cell stacks at least once annually.
Like other cars, FCEVs should get tire rotations every 5,000-7,000 miles. Keep in mind that since fuel cells deliver torque immediately, tires may wear out faster than on a conventional car. Brakes should last 30,000-35,000 miles and drivers can replace fluids and filters when they rotate their ties.
Fuel Cell Care vs. Battery-Electric Cars
These maintenance needs and timelines are almost identical to those of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). In many ways, FCEVs operate the same as conventional EVs, so they have many of the same ongoing care benefits.
Vehicle batteries can last for decades without extreme use, and both FCEVs and BEVs have fewer moving parts than gas cars. The only significant maintenance difference between them is that FCEVs require periodic fuel cell and hydrogen tank inspections. However, many automakers cover these checks for the first few years of ownership and the components rarely need extensive fixes, so they don’t incur much higher costs.
Fuel Cell Care vs. Fossil Fuel Vehicles
Compared to gas and diesel alternatives, FCEVs have minimal maintenance needs. That applies to both the costs and frequency of ongoing care.
EVs like fuel cell vehicles can cost close to $1,000 less to maintain than gas alternatives over 45,000 miles. Almost all of the regular maintenance FCEVs require are also necessary for gas cars, but the latter also carries other repair needs, as they have more moving parts.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells Require Unique But Infrequent Care
Overall, hydrogen fuel cells offer significant maintenance advantages over conventional drivetrains. While some inspections require specially outfitted facilities, these vehicles require fewer repairs and less frequent maintenance than their fossil fuel counterparts.
As fuel cell technology advances, repairing these components will become increasingly cost-effective. Consumers and businesses alike should consider these advantages when weighing different vehicle technologies for future investments.
Jane Marsh, Contributor
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Fuel Cells Works, its directors, partners, staff, contributors, or suppliers. Any content provided by our contributors or authors are of their own opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.
Read the most up to date Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Industry news at FuelCellsWorks