Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Cars
Fuel cell electric cars are powered by the most abundant element in the universe: hydrogen. Although a fuel cell car runs on electricity, it does so differently than battery-powered or plug-in hybrid cars. In a fuel cell, hydrogen reacts electrochemically to produce electricity to power the car.
How They Work
Fuel cell cars are powered by compressed hydrogen gas that feeds into an onboard fuel cell “stack” that doesn’t burn the gas, but instead transforms the fuel’s chemical energy into electrical energy. This electricity then powers the car’s electric motors. Tailpipe emissions are zero, and the only waste produced is pure water.
The construction of the fuel cell is similar to a battery. Hydrogen enters the anode, where it comes in contact with a catalyst that promotes the separation of hydrogen atoms into an electron and proton. The electrons are gathered by the conductive current collector, which is connected to the car’s high-voltage circuitry, feeding the onboard battery and/or the motors that turn the wheels.
- Fuel Cell Stack – An aggregate of numerous fuel cells that combine oxygen and hydrogen to generate electricity and power the electric motor
- Fuel Tank – Hydrogen gas is stored in carbon-fiber reinforced tanks to provide fuel to the fuel-cell stack
- Electric Motor – Powers the car using energy produced in the fuel cell stack
- Battery – Captures energy from regenerative braking and provides additional power to the electric motor
- Exhaust – The byproduct of the reaction occurring in the fuel cell stack is water vapor, which is emitted through the exhaust
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are quiet, very energy efficient, produce no emissions and have equivalent range and performance to gasoline counterparts. Drivers identify range, refueling time, emissions, power and performance as valuable vehicle characteristics.
Fuel cell cars are eligible for a $5,000 rebate ($7,000 for income qualified purchasers) from California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. They also qualify for the Clean Air Vehicle decal to drive solo in the carpool lanes, as well as various programs to support clean transportation ownership in low income and disadvantaged communities. Check for other incentives in your region.
California Hydrogen Initiatives
Get latest regulatory updates on hydrogen fueling infrastructure from the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP)
Industry/government collaboration aimed at expanding the market for fuel cell electric vehicles powered by hydrogen.
U.S. Department of Energy – Fuel Cell Vehicles
Federal government website providing overview of fuel cell technology and a comparison between available models.
California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC)
Advocacy group comprised of over 100 companies and agencies working to advance the commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell industry.
Electric For All Fuel Cell Cars
A comprehensive listing of fuel cell electric car models currently available in California, including incentives.