Advances in hydrogen fuel cell technologies

TTI Europe’s industry marketing director, transportation, Dermot Byrne delves into fuel cell technology, focusing on proton exchange membrane (PEM)

Renewable energy sources play a vital role in combating climate change by offering energy without depleting finite resources or emitting greenhouse gases. While solar and wind power dominate, other sources like hydroelectricity, tidal energy and geothermal energy contribute as well. More recently, hydrogen fuel cells have emerged as a promising technology, converting chemical energy into electricity and heat efficiently through electrochemical reactions. Although the concept dates to 1839, practical applications gained momentum in the latter half of the 20th century.

PEM fuel cells, notable for their efficiency and low environmental impact, gained prominence due to their role in space exploration. Since then, they have been refined for various transportation applications, including cars, buses, trucks, marine vessels, trains and aircraft. While other fuel cell types exist, like phosphoric acid and solid oxide, they are predominantly used for stationary power applications for off-grid generation and back-up power.

Hydrogen, as the fuel for these cells, is abundant but typically chemically bonded, necessitating extraction through methods like electrolysis. Electrolysis, powered by renewable sources like wind or solar energy, yields ‘green hydrogen’, distinguished by its low carbon footprint. Industrial-scale electrolysis systems are now deploying, aiming to produce exclusively green hydrogen.

Comparing fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), FCEVs offer advantages in energy density and refuelling time, making them suitable for commercial applications like buses and trucks. Truck OEMs are increasingly embracing hydrogen fuel cells, attracted by their emission reduction potential and comparable range to internal combustion engines. Similarly, industries like construction, mining, agriculture, marine, rail, and aviation are exploring fuel cell integration for transportation needs.

However, realizing a hydrogen economy requires substantial infrastructure investment, including storage, distribution and refuelling facilities. Despite challenges, the hydrogen industry aims for rapid expansion, leveraging incentives and advancements in technology.

In FCEV design, considerations span connectors, sensors, passive components and power converters, ensuring seamless functionality and safety. Major companies like Mercedes-Benz, Ballard Power Systems and Symbio are driving innovation in FCEVs across automotive, commercial vehicle and technology sectors. Key components from suppliers like Amphenol, TE Connectivity and Aptiv are integral to these developments.

TTI Europe’s local product and technical professionals can help FCEV OEMs navigate the design process, from analysing component trends, sustainable sourcing and new product roadmaps to in-depth technical support from our engineering experts. Furthermore, connector assembly is one of TTI’s most important value-added services, complemented by a global distribution reach delivering consistent quality and reliability.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is poised to revolutionise the haulage and distribution sector, offering a comparable alternative to traditional fossil fuels. As infrastructure and technology continue to advance, FCEVs will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of sustainable transportation.