What is a hydrogen fuel cell? A comprehensive guide

April 7, 2023
What is a hydrogen fuel cell? A comprehensive guide

Hydrogen fuel cells are a clean and efficient source of energy that have been gaining attention in recent years due to their potential to revolutionize various industries, such as transportation and power generation. In this article, we'll explore the basics of hydrogen fuel cells, how they work, their advantages, limitations, and various applications.

What is a Hydrogen Fuel Cell?

A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts the chemical energy stored in hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, heat, and water. Unlike traditional combustion engines that burn fossil fuels, hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity without harmful emissions, making them an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional energy sources.

How Does a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Work?

The basic principle behind hydrogen fuel cells is the electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. There are several types of hydrogen fuel cells, but two of the most common are Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells and Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC).

Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Fuel Cells

PEM fuel cells consist of an anode, a cathode, and a proton exchange membrane sandwiched between them. Hydrogen gas is fed to the anode, where it encounters a catalyst, usually made of platinum. The catalyst causes the hydrogen molecules to split into protons and electrons. The protons pass through the proton exchange membrane to the cathode, while the electrons travel through an external circuit, generating electricity. At the cathode, the protons, electrons, and oxygen from the air combine to form water and heat, the only byproducts of the process.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC)

SOFCs operate at higher temperatures than PEM fuel cells, typically around 800-1,000°C. They use a solid ceramic electrolyte to transport oxygen ions from the cathode to the anode. At the anode, hydrogen reacts with the oxygen ions, producing water and releasing electrons. These electrons flow through an external circuit, generating electricity.

Advantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

  1. Environmentally friendly: Hydrogen fuel cells produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, as their only byproducts are water and heat.
  2. High efficiency: Hydrogen fuel cells are more energy-efficient than traditional combustion engines, as they can convert up to 60% of the energy stored in hydrogen into electricity.
  3. Quiet operation: Unlike combustion engines, hydrogen fuel cells operate quietly, making them suitable for various applications, such as residential power generation.
  4. Fuel flexibility: Some fuel cells can utilize different types of fuels, including natural gas and biogas, in addition to hydrogen.

Challenges and Limitations

  1. High cost: The manufacturing cost of hydrogen fuel cells, especially those using platinum catalysts, can be high.
  2. Hydrogen storage and infrastructure: Storing and transporting hydrogen can be challenging due to its low energy density and the lack of a comprehensive hydrogen infrastructure.
  3. Durability and lifespan: Some fuel cell types may have a limited lifespan due to degradation of components, such as the electrolyte and catalysts.

Applications of Hydrogen Fuel Cells


Hydrogen fuel cells have been widely explored as a clean alternative to conventional internal combustion engines in vehicles. Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) utilize hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity, which powers the electric motor. FCEVs have several advantages, such as longer driving ranges and faster refueling times compared to battery electric vehicles.

Stationary Power Generation

Hydrogen fuel cells can be used for stationary power generation in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. They can provide reliable, clean, and efficient power for various applications, such as backup power, grid support, and combined heat and power systems.

Portable Power

Portable hydrogen fuel cells can be used as a lightweight, compact, and clean power source for various devices, such as laptops, smartphones, and other electronics. They are particularly useful in remote or off-grid locations where conventional power sources are not available.

Future Prospects and Developments

As the demand for clean and efficient energy sources grows, hydrogen fuel cells are expected to play a significant role in the global energy landscape. Research and development efforts are focused on improving the performance, durability, and affordability of hydrogen fuel cells. Moreover, investments in hydrogen infrastructure and storage technologies are expected to facilitate the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel cells across various sectors.


Hydrogen fuel cells offer a promising clean energy solution with a range of applications, from transportation to power generation. While there are challenges to overcome, such as high costs and limited infrastructure, continued research and development could unlock their full potential and contribute to a more sustainable energy future.

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The emergence of zero-emissions generators
The emergence of zero-emissions generators

With CO2 emissions of 1.27 kg per kWh and a noise level that can be over 70 dB, diesel-powered generators don’t have a great image these days. The time has come to switch to clean alternative solutions to answer climate and public health challenges.

Where are generators used?

Generators or gensets are mainly used to supply electricity to sites or machines that cannot be connected to the grid (isolated sites, construction sites, festivals, port areas, etc.). Emergency generators can also be used to ensure the continuity of power in the event of a local network failure, in hospitals, industry, IT centres, etc.

Why use renewable hydrogen for generator sets?

For several years now, renewable hydrogen has been providing a solution for manufacturers and generator users wishing to take part in the energy transition. New green gensets integrating hydrogen fuel cells are emerging and have the following advantages:

• Zero emissions: A generator set powered by renewable hydrogen generates only electricity and water and therefore produces no greenhouse gas emissions.
• Silence is golden: As well as eliminating diesel odours, hydrogen generators are quiet and thus contribute to the well-being of local residents and workers.

Where can green generators play a role?

The advantages in terms of CO2 emissions and noise make green generators ideal for port areas, the construction industry or events in search of carbon-free and silent solutions to protect the planet and the health of employees.

Hydrogen generators also have a card to play in places where using a diesel generator is not possible, such as in confined environments, areas with a high risk or near flammable materials.

Companies developing hydrogen generators

Several companies have already knuckled down to bringing the benefits of renewable hydrogen to generator technology. One of these is PowiDian, a French SME which launched MobHyl Power, a mobile electric generator using a hydrogen fuel cell, in 2018. Providing 30 kW of power, it is perfectly suited to the construction industry and has already won over Vinci.

H2SYS also made its entrance on the zero-emission generator scene, with BOXHY, a hydrogen generator targeting lower power needs for the events sector especially.

EODev, set up in 2019, is developing hydrogen gensets initially designed for ships. As a result of their success, many building and events players are now interested in the system. In early 2022, the company planned to manufacture up to 160 land-based generators and 30 on-board hydrogen gensets.

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Caterpillar - G3516h

EODev - Geh2

H2SYS - Thytan 90

H2SYS - Thytan 150

H2SYS - Boxhy

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What is a Hydrogen Battery?
What is a Hydrogen Battery?

Hydrogen batteries are energy storage devices that utilize hydrogen to generate electricity. There are two primary types of hydrogen batteries: hydrogen fuel cells and metal hydride batteries. These batteries offer numerous benefits, including environmental friendliness, high energy density, and long lifespan. This article explores the workings, advantages, challenges, and applications of hydrogen batteries.

Basics of Hydrogen Batteries

Hydrogen batteries store and convert energy by using hydrogen as a primary reactant. These batteries produce electricity through an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and an oxidizing agent, typically oxygen. This reaction produces water as the primary byproduct, making hydrogen batteries an environmentally friendly option for energy storage.

Types of Hydrogen Batteries

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen fuel cells directly convert chemical energy into electrical energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen in a controlled electrochemical process. The electricity generated by this process can then be used to power various applications, from vehicles to stationary power generators.

Metal Hydride Batteries

Metal hydride batteries store hydrogen within a solid metal alloy, typically as a hydride compound. These batteries release the stored hydrogen when heated, which can then be used in a fuel cell to generate electricity.

How Hydrogen Batteries Work

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Functioning

Hydrogen fuel cells consist of an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte membrane. At the anode, hydrogen molecules are split into protons and electrons. The protons pass through the electrolyte membrane, while the electrons are forced to travel through an external circuit, creating an electrical current. At the cathode, the protons, electrons, and oxygen combine to form water.

Metal Hydride Battery Functioning

In metal hydride batteries, hydrogen is absorbed into a metal alloy at high pressure and released when heated. The hydrogen gas can then be fed into a fuel cell, where it undergoes the same electrochemical process as described for hydrogen fuel cells, generating electricity.

Advantages of Hydrogen Batteries

Environmental Benefits

Hydrogen batteries produce only water as a byproduct, making them a clean and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional batteries and fossil fuels. Their use helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease air pollution.

High Energy Density

Hydrogen has a high energy density by weight, making hydrogen batteries an attractive option for applications requiring lightweight and long-lasting energy storage, such as electric vehicles and renewable energy systems.

Long Lifespan

Hydrogen batteries, particularly fuel cells, have a long lifespan and can operate for extended periods with minimal degradation in performance. This makes them suitable for applications where reliability and durability are crucial, such as backup power systems and remote installations.

Challenges for Hydrogen Batteries

Hydrogen Storage

Storing hydrogen safely and efficiently remains a significant challenge for hydrogen batteries. High-pressure tanks, metal hydrides, and chemical hydrides are some storage options being explored, each with its own advantages and drawbacks.


Developing a widespread hydrogen infrastructure for production, distribution, and refueling is a critical challenge for the widespread adoption of hydrogen batteries, particularly in the transportation sector. While some regions have made progress in building hydrogen refueling stations, the overall infrastructure remains limited.


The cost of hydrogen batteries, especially fuel cells, can be high compared to traditional battery technologies. However, ongoing research and development, as well as economies of scale, are expected to reduce costs in the future.

Applications of Hydrogen Batteries


Hydrogen batteries are increasingly used in the transportation sector, powering electric vehicles such as cars, buses, and even trains. These vehicles offer zero-emission driving, reduced noise pollution, and rapid refueling times compared to traditional electric vehicles.

Renewable Energy Storage

Hydrogen batteries can play a vital role in the integration of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. By converting excess renewable energy into hydrogen, these batteries can store energy for later use, mitigating the intermittency issues associated with renewables.

Remote Power

Hydrogen batteries are an attractive option for providing power in remote locations where grid access is limited or unavailable. Their long lifespan, low maintenance requirements, and clean operation make them suitable for powering remote telecommunications equipment, weather stations, and emergency power systems.

Emerging Technologies and Innovations

Advancements in hydrogen battery technology are ongoing, with research focusing on improving efficiency, reducing costs, and enhancing storage options. Some innovative approaches include solid-state hydrogen storage, new materials for metal hydride batteries, and advanced fuel cell designs.


Hydrogen batteries are a promising and environmentally friendly energy storage solution with numerous applications. While challenges remain in areas such as hydrogen storage, infrastructure, and cost, ongoing research and development hold the potential to overcome these hurdles and propel hydrogen batteries to the forefront of clean energy solutions.

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How Do Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Work?
How Do Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Work?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars represent a promising alternative to traditional combustion engine vehicles and battery electric vehicles, as they combine the best of both worlds: long driving range and quick refueling, while producing zero harmful emissions. In this article, we'll explore how hydrogen cars work, their components, benefits, and challenges, as well as the future of this innovative technology.

The Basics of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric vehicles that generate electricity by converting hydrogen gas into electrical energy through a chemical reaction in a device called a fuel cell. This electricity powers the electric motor, which drives the car. The only byproduct of this reaction is water vapor, making hydrogen cars an environmentally friendly transportation option.

Types of Fuel Cells in Hydrogen Cars

There are several types of fuel cells, but the most common ones used in hydrogen cars are:

PEM Fuel Cells

Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells are the most common type of fuel cell used in passenger cars. They operate at relatively low temperatures (around 80°C), making them suitable for quick start-up times and providing a high power density, which is essential for vehicle applications.

Alkaline Fuel Cells

Alkaline fuel cells (AFCs) use an alkaline electrolyte and are known for their high efficiency. However, they are more sensitive to impurities in the hydrogen fuel and less common in automotive applications.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) operate at much higher temperatures (800-1000°C) and are typically used in stationary power generation applications. Their use in vehicles is limited due to their slow start-up times and the need for significant thermal management.

Components of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car

Hydrogen fuel cell cars consist of several main components:

Fuel Cell Stack

The fuel cell stack is the heart of the hydrogen car, where hydrogen and oxygen react to produce electricity, water, and heat. The stack is made up of multiple individual fuel cells connected in series.

Hydrogen Storage

Hydrogen is stored in high-pressure tanks, usually at 350 or 700 bar, to provide sufficient energy for driving long distances. These tanks are made from advanced materials to ensure safety and durability.

Electric Motor

The electric motor converts the electrical energy generated by the fuel cell stack into mechanical energy, which drives the car. Electric motors in hydrogen cars are similar to those used in battery electric vehicles and are known for their high efficiency and instant torque delivery.

Power Electronics

The power electronics in a hydrogen car control the flow of electricity between the fuel cell stack, the electric motor, and other components. They also manage the energy generated during regenerative braking and provide protection against electrical faults.


A small battery or supercapacitor is used in hydrogen fuel cell cars to store energy from regenerative braking and provide additional power during acceleration or high-load situations. This battery is much smaller than the ones used in battery electric vehicles.

How Hydrogen is Produced for Fuel Cell Cars

Hydrogen can be produced through various methods, including natural gas reforming, electrolysis of water, and biomass gasification. The most common method for producing hydrogen is steam methane reforming, which uses natural gas as the primary feedstock. However, this process generates carbon dioxide emissions. The greenest method for hydrogen production is electrolysis, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity from renewable sources like solar or wind energy.

The Process of Generating Electricity in a Hydrogen Car

When hydrogen fuel is supplied to the fuel cell stack, it is combined with oxygen from the air. In a PEM fuel cell, hydrogen molecules pass through a catalyst, which splits them into protons and electrons. The protons then move through a proton exchange membrane, while the electrons are forced to travel through an external circuit, generating electricity. The protons and electrons recombine with oxygen on the other side of the membrane to produce water as the only byproduct.

Benefits of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

Hydrogen fuel cell cars offer several advantages over conventional vehicles and battery electric vehicles:

Zero Emissions

Hydrogen cars emit only water vapor, making them an environmentally friendly transportation option that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.

Quick Refueling

Refueling a hydrogen car takes only a few minutes, similar to filling up a gasoline-powered vehicle, as opposed to the longer charging times required for battery electric vehicles.

Longer Range

Hydrogen fuel cell cars can achieve a driving range of 300 to 400 miles (or more) on a single tank, making them more suitable for long-distance travel compared to most battery electric vehicles.

Challenges Facing Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

Despite their advantages, hydrogen fuel cell cars face several challenges:


The hydrogen refueling infrastructure is limited, with only a few hundred stations worldwide. Expanding the network of hydrogen refueling stations will be crucial for the widespread adoption of hydrogen cars.


The cost of hydrogen fuel cell cars is still relatively high due to the expensive materials and complex manufacturing processes involved. However, advances in technology and economies of scale could help reduce costs in the future.

Energy Efficiency

The overall energy efficiency of hydrogen fuel cell cars is lower than that of battery electric vehicles due to energy losses during hydrogen production, storage, and conversion to electricity in the fuel cell.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Brands and Models

Several automotive manufacturers have developed and released hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, including Toyota (Mirai), Honda (Clarity Fuel Cell), Hyundai (Nexo), and Mercedes-Benz (GLC F-CELL).

The Future of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

The future of hydrogen fuel cell cars will depend on the development of cost-effective and sustainable hydrogen production methods, advances in fuel cell technology, and the expansion of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure. As these challenges are addressed, hydrogen cars could play a significant role in the transition to cleaner, more sustainable transportation.


Hydrogen fuel cell cars offer a promising alternative to traditional combustion engine vehicles and battery electric vehicles, with benefits such as zero emissions, quick refueling, and longer range. However, challenges such as infrastructure, cost, and energy efficiency must be overcome to enable widespread adoption. As technology advances and the hydrogen refueling infrastructure expands, hydrogen fuel cell cars could become a vital part of our sustainable transportation future.

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