Fuel-cell vehicles on brink of breakthrough

A conference on fuel cells in vehicles organised by Swiss research institutes in the greater Zurich region looked at the sustainability of using hydrogen as a fuel. Fuel-cell vehicles are currently in a transition phase from research to application.

At the event, which was held on the Empa campus in Dübendorf near Zurich, top speakers talked about the production of hydrogen for mobility, its logistics, the market opportunities and the sustainability of using hydrogen as a fuel, writes Empa in a news release.

The top question on everyone’s minds was how to ensure that the energy used to produce hydrogen stems from renewable sources. One suggestion is to redeploy the surplus energy produced by photovoltaic plants in the summer months into other areas such as mobility, where the electricity can be converted into hydrogen via electrolysis for fuel-cell vehicles.

Although hydrogen is an important chemical base material in industry, it is hardly used as an energy source. But as Empa explains, mobility can transform hydrogen into a universal energy source by adding it to natural gas (similar to biogas) or using it to produce synthetic methane gas. This would mean that the gas could be stored in the existing gas network and used to power gas cars.

Cost still remains a barrier to broadening the use of hydrogen as an energy source. But Felix Büchi from the Paul Scherrer Institute, one of the conference organisers along with Empa, the ETH Zurich and inspire AG, predicts that fuel prices for diesel- and hydrogen-powered vehicles will be on par in a few years’ time.

Fuel-cell vehicles themselves will play an important role in the breakthrough of hydrogen as an energy source. Representatives from the automobile industry attended the event, including Toyota, which is launching a fuel-cell vehicle called the Mirai, and Hyundai, which announced the addition of a Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell to its “move” vehicle fleet.

 

Image credit: Empa

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