Conference Session Paper # 2055
HYDROGEN: THE FUTURE OF THE AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY
David McFadien (email@example.com), Jack Ozaroff (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Abstract— Modern society currently uses more oil than the ideas have been brought forth to be used in the automotive
natural patterns of the Earth can produce. Finding a industry, such as battery powered and solar powered
suitable replacement for vehicles using fossil fuels is one of vehicles, as well as many different blends that will lower the
the more difficult challenges that engineers will and are usage of fossil fuels. However, one of the most promising
working to accomplish. This paper will be written on the new technologies for vehicles, when the technology is
integration of hydrogen fuels cells into automobiles, in order mastered, is the hydrogen fuel cell. There are many
to solve the current issues with such means of different types of fuel cells, but the most conceivable for
transportation. As the supply of fossil fuels decreases it is usage in vehicles is the Polymer Exchange Membrane Fuel
imperative that we, as a nation and global community, Cell, due to its small size. Hydrogen fuel cell powered
pursue alternative means of energy. One of those promising vehicles are the future of the automobile industry due to
replacements for the fossil fuels is hydrogen. Hydrogen has their environmental safety, non-toxic, easy production, and
the potential to provide clean, renewable, and safe energy. abundent availability for generations to come.
Hydrogen vehicles are one of the more promising
alternative fuel vehicles. We will discuss these vehicles, HYDROGEN
such as the Honda SFX Clarity. In doing so we hope to
highlight how hydrogen vehicles will establish a place in Hydrogen is a means to an end of fossil fuel reliance in
transportation. The cost of such vehicles is projected to regards to automotive transportation energy. Hydrogen acts
drop by 2015; the efficiency is predicted to rise. This is due as an energy carrier since the energy harnessed is within the
to the quick improvement of the technology of fuel cells, actual atom, unlike fossil fuels which act as energy sources,
which are becoming cheaper to manufacture and more since the energy is captured by burning it as fuel . This
powerful (Fueleconomy). Our focus will be on the makes it overwhelmingly valuable as a means for future
Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell. We will explain energy, providing for a growing society. Furthermore,
the composition of this fuel cell and the process which takes hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and is
place within it. Our main emphasis will be explaining how mainly found on Earth in the form of water. This is valuable
the fuel cell breaks down hydrogen and reforms it with since close to 75% of the Earth’s surface is water, making
oxygen to produce energy and water (Nice). We will hydrogen so plentiful that it is viewed as a nearly limitless
describe the different parts of the individual fuel cells energy supply. Hydrogen can be separated from water
including the membrane which separates this particular molecules in multiple ways. The most plausible way is
design. Furthermore, we will describe in length the positive through electrolysis, in which large amounts of electricity
effects of using this form of fuel cell as well as the are passed through water. It takes approximately 285.83 kJ
limitations that are currently associated with it to separate one mole of hydrogen from 1 mole water at
standard temperature and pressure, 1 atmosphere and 298
Key Words—Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, Kelvin . This method however is currently quite
hydrogen fuel cells, alternative sources of energy, hydrogen, expensive since it is a new technology and is still being fully
Honda FSX Clarity developed. With this level of proficiency in harvesting
hydrogen, it is a more than feasible that this fuel should be
THE FUTURE OF AUTOMOBILES used by the automotive industry in order to meet the demand
of the consumer market.
Modern American society is using its biggest supply of
energy at such a devastating rate that this source could be
completely depleted by the end of the century. Is this
necessarily a bad thing? Fossil fuels are a destructive source
of energy that have brought about international conflicts
while releasing toxic fumes that are dangerous not only for
the environment, but also for humanity. Engineers have
been tasked with finding a suitable form of alternative fuel
while developing technology that can use this fuel to its
maximum potential in order to replace this currently
necessary evil. The new solution must be safe,
environmentally friendly, and relatively affordable. Many
University of Pittsburgh
Swanson School of Engineering April 14, 2012
the form of gasoline and diesel .” By using hydrogen,
this dependency can be lowered drastically, boosting the
economy, and preventing international conflicts.
ABOVE IS A CHART THAT SHOWS THE AMOUNT OF GRAMS OF CARBON
DIOXIDE PRODUCED/MILE .
FIGURE 1 Hydrogen Vehicles
ABOVE IS A DIAGRAM OF HOW HYDROGEN IS FORMED THROUGH
ELECTROLYSIS . For decades, research has gone into finding alternative
sources of fuel to power vehicles. Research was kick started
in 2003 when President Bush announced a $1.3 research
The use of hydrogen as an energy carrier has the potential budget for hydrogen fueled vehicles . If President Bush is
for many important benefits. Hydrogen, a naturally classed as a hydrogen supporter, then President Obama can
occurring element, has no toxic properties. In contrast, be labeled as a skeptic. The Obama administration cut
petroleum based fuels, are exceptionally toxic producing funding for hydrogen vehicle research in 2011, marking the
emissions such as nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and third straight year of funding cuts . Others are not as
particulate matter . Hydrogen’s toxic free properties are convinced as the current administration and maintain that
beneficial for both mankind and the environment since these hydrogen is a major option to fulfill the needs of individuals,
toxic gases lead to a phenomenon known as global warming, while creating a safer, more viable alternative to fossil fuels
which is slowly devastating the planet Earth by heating up that will maintain demand in a consumer market. There are
the atmosphere. By decreasing the number of these gases currently two ways in which hydrogen can be used to power
produced, the natural healing process of the Earth can repair vehicles while meeting most if not all of these guidelines.
this damage and slowly restore itself. Additionally, The first way, that is currently used more frequently, is to
hydrogen is also less flammable than gasoline with a flare use hydrogen in an internal combustion engine similar to
point of 932 degrees Fahrenheit while gasoline’s flare point those that are used with gasoline or diesel. Although this
is 536 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, contrary to method still produces greenhouse gases (GHGs), hydrogen
common belief, hydrogen does in fact store safely. The powered vehicles (HPVs) using internal combustion engines
containers for storing hydrogen actually undergo very strict produce fewer GHGs than gasoline vehicles. The second
testing, more than can be said for most gasoline fuel tanks. process used in HPVs is the use of hydrogen fuel cells.
Another positive property of hydrogen is that it disperses Although currently less powerful than gasoline vehicles,
very quickly since it is much less dense than air. This was diesel vehicles, and hydrogen powered vehicles run by
displayed by the Hindenburg Disaster in May of 1937 when internal combustion engines, they do not produce any
a German airship named the Hindenburg ignited due to its GHGs. Moreover, with the recent trends of improved
flammable skin layer catching fire which in turn set the technology used and a decrease in cost of production of
flammable hydrogen filled bags ablaze. Originally hydrogen hydrogen fuel cells, it is predicted that HPVs will be
was thought to have caused the disaster, but it was later available to the public for sale by 2015 . With this
proven that although it did burn, it was completely technology on the verge of a major breakthrough in the
consumed within 60 seconds well above the crew and guests market, one must understand the technology behind it.
. Another benefit of hydrogen is its abundant availability
in the form of water. According to the Alternative Fuels
Data Center, “The United States imports more than 60% of
its petroleum, two-thirds of which is used to fuel vehicles in
that contains platinum nanoparticles that are thinly coated
onto a carbon paper that separates the hydrogen gas from the
electrons. Meanwhile, oxygen gas is brought in through the
cathode, which then attracts the hydronium ions through the
fuel cell. The hydronium ion, oxygen and the electron all
react at the cathode end to form water vapor which is
released into the air through the exhaust line . The
electricity that was produced then sent to the electric motor,
propelling the car. A power control unit controls the flow of
electricity to the motor. This process runs quietly and
smoothly while being very clean .
ABOVE IS A DIAGRAM THAT SHOWS AN OUTLINE OF HOW HYDROGEN FUEL
CELL VEHICLES RUN .
POLYMER ELECTROLYTE MEMBRANE FUEL
Components and How They Work Together
Fuel cells can fulfill a variety of jobs; they can be used to
power stationary objects in addition to powering vehicles.
Depending on the task needed to be accomplished, different
fuel cells can be used. The fuel cell best suited for use in
vehicles is the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell
(PEMFC), also known as the Proton Exchange Membrane
(PEM) fuel cell. To best describe a PEMFC, one must
follow the path that hydrogen takes through the system.
Hydrogen’s trip begins in the storage tank, often located
under the back seats . Automotive manufacturers are
working towards storing the hydrogen gas in these tanks at
10,000 psi, helping to extend the range of the vehicles . FIGURE 4
The hydrogen then flows from this area towards the front of THIS DIAGRAM (ABOVE) OUTLINES THE PROCESSES THAT OCCUR INSIDE AN
INDIVIDUAL FUEL CELL .
the car. The next destination is the fuel stacks. Fuel stacks
are multiple fuel cells placed together to optimize the Efficiency and Progress
amount of electricity that is produced, since only 1.16V are
produced per fuel cell on average . The path inside the The overall efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells has increased
fuel cell start as hydrogen is brought in through the intake dramatically over the past decade. The technology was
valve that comes from the fuel tank. The fuel cells contain discovered in 1839 by Sir William Grove; over the last
two sides that are oppositely charged points. The anode, century and a half progress to make it a viable alternative
where the hydrogen is brought in, is the negative end, while source of fuel has been hindered by the complexity of the
the cathode is the positive end. The hydrogen then reacts on technology . However, with the recent integration of the
the anode that strips one electron of every hydrogen atom polymer membrane into the PEMFC, as well as an improved
and forces it into the external circuit, resulting in the catalyst being used to speed up the reaction, HPVs are
formation of hydronium ions that are forced into channels starting to become a competitor in the automotive industry.
that disperse the hydrogen gas equally over the catalyst. The Currently, their power output is not as high as gasoline
electricity is then harnessed from the electrons passing powered vehicles, but their ‘gas mileage’ is much better than
through an external circuit with load that then sends the the average vehicle on the road today. For example, the
electrons back towards the cathode end of the fuel cell. The 2012 Honda FCX Clarity gets 60 miles/kg for both city and
polymer membrane, which blocks electrons from passing highway driving and the 2012 Mercedes-Benz F-Cell gets 52
through to the side of the cathode, is covered with a catalyst miles/kg for city driving. For comparisons sake, one kg of
hydrogen is approximately equal to one gallon of gasoline recently showcased one of their newer concept vehicles
. Furthermore, the Clarity also has a range of 240 miles named the Ecovoyager. Unlike the Clarity, this vehicle uses
per tank while the F-Cell has a range of 190 miles per tank. both a lithium-ion battery and hydrogen fuel cells to give it a
These are examples of how efficient hydrogen vehicles have range of over 300 miles. General Motors has featured the
become over the recent years. In addition, hydrogen fuel Sequel with a range of 300 miles and an acceleration of 0-60
cell vehicles are 64% efficient overall and even have a in just 10 seconds. General Motors claims that the Sequel is
potential to be 80% efficient, while gasoline powered easy to handle, build, and is safer than gasoline powered
vehicles have an efficiency rate of only 20% . This, in vehicles . The Mercedes Model, a small station wagon
itself, is an indication of the true potential of hydrogen fuel called the F-cell, has a combined fuel economy of 52
cell vehicles as the technology advances. There is, however, miles/kg . Hydrogen fuel cells are also being used in
one issue that currently remains with PEMFC powered public transportation. Ballard Power Systems has been
vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles currently have developing fuel cells for buses since 1992. According to
problems with the durability of the Polymer Electrolyte Ballard, the buses they power have logged: more than
Membrane Fuel Cell. As of 2007, the DOE reported that the 200,000 hours, 3 million kilometers, and 7 million
average life span of a PEMFC was 2,000 hours or roughly passengers transported . Another example of
62,000 miles (100,000 km). This is still fairly far away from hydrogen’s integration into public transportation began in
the required durability for current automotive engines which 2011, when London began a hydrogen bus initiative after the
is 5,000 hours or approximately 150,000 miles. Private success of a trial run from 2003 to 2007. The trial’s purpose
automotive companies claim to be closer to this goal, but no was to reduce air pollution and noise through the use of fuel
data has been released at this time. cell buses. Since the test London has added a fleet of
hydrogen fueled buses as well as a refilling station .
The Future Already in Motion
SOCIAL ISSUES AND ETHICS
While yet to be tested on a wide scale, FCVs are beginning
to surface from many manufactures. Perhaps the most Cost
notable of the FCVs is the Honda’s FCX Clarity. The
Clarity is a well-rounded example of a PEMFC system in a Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are currently some of the most
car. Honda has already improved from one model to expensive vehicles available on the market. In fact they are
another. The latest model of the Clarity, the FCX Clarity so expensive that they are typically used by public
FCEV, is 20% more fuel efficient than its predecessor. It transportation services and leased to high end celebrities and
also has been recorded to be 10% more energy-efficient businessmen . The reason surrounding such extreme
. The FCEV was reported to get 60 miles/kg in the city costs is mainly due to the fuel cells themselves. However,
as well as 60 miles/kg on highways. The overall range of there is hope to improve this situation. Vast
this midsized car is 240 miles . The Clarity utilizes a accomplishments have been made over the last decade
Vertical Flow, or v-flow, fuel cell stack, their self-reported regarding the overall cost of these vehicles. In fact,
greatest breakthrough to this point in the fuel cell area. The according to the Department of Energy (DOE), programs
V-flow is smaller than previous attempts allowing for more that they are currently financially supporting have made
room in the car. This fuel cell is also packed for better major advances in the cost of these fuel cells. “DOE-
efficiency, as well as a reduction in the heat produced . supported activities have reduced the high-volume cost of
In 2009 Honda announced the Clarity and began leasing the fuel cells by 30% since 2008 and 80% since 2002” .
new concept to costumers in Southern California . The Furthermore, these high costs are also due to the fact that
Clarity was leased for $600 a month. Costumers seemed this technology isn’t manufactured on the large scale of
content with the performance of the car; one such costumer other automotive technologies. According to a published
explained that they’ve had fewer problems with the Clarity record update by the DOE, “The cost of an 80-kW (PEMFC)
than their gasoline powered cars . Another explained, system based on 2011 technology and operating on direct
“These cars change the way you affect the environment hydrogen is projected to be $49/kW when manufactured at a
WITHOUT changing the way you drive” . One volume of 500,000 units/year”. When compared to the
problem that consumers found with the product was the lack projects from 2007 which were $94/kW, this is a decrease of
of hydrogen filling stations, as filling up had to be planned nearly 52% in just five years. With such drastic
in advance . One current problem with the Clarity accomplishments in decreasing the price of PEMFC
costumers have found is its proclivity to leave a puddle of technology, optimistic predictions are being made for the
water on the garage floor from the tailpipe. Honda has not future. The Department of Energy’s goal is to have the cost
been the only car manufacturer to get caught up in the of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles drop by approximately 15-
hydrogen movement. Companies such as General Motors, 22% by the year 2015 in order to make it a competitive
Mercedes, and BMW have begun to turn out their own option in today’s market. This appears to be very reasonable
versions of hydrogen vehicles. For Example, Chrysler has when compared to the current rate in which prices are falling
. However, critics debate this topic with the recent press
release from Toyota that projects their new hydrogen fuel hydrogen, and pollution-free.” He then allocated $1.2
cell vehicles to be priced over $100,000 . This criticism billion for hydrogen research which, even though it was not
is unwarranted due to the fact that the heightened costs are nearly enough money to accomplish this goal; it was a start
directly correlated to the fact that there are not many . Unfortunately, this funding was largely cut by the
hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the market creating a Obama administration which believed that automakers were
monopoly of sorts. As these vehicles become more readily focused on battery power, even though Honda, BMW,
available by different automotive companies, the price will General Motors, and Toyota all plan to have HPVs on the
drop due to the competition. In fact, Toyota projects that by road within the decade . According to Pike Research in a
2015 the price of their fuel cell vehicles will drop to recent estimate, “almost three million hydrogen cars will be
$50,000, making it a more reasonably priced option . sold by 2020 .” Based on this estimate, huge strides have
to be made in order to keep up with the demand to refuel
Hydrogen Distribution these vehicles. With only nineteen states containing
Hydrogen fuel distribution is probably the biggest consumer hydrogen fueling stations, advances must be made over the
concern surrounding hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. next few years to establish the infrastructure in order to keep
Unfortunately, there is no way to distribute hydrogen to the up with the demand.
consumer on a large scale similar to that of gasoline Environmental Impacts
powered vehicles. This leads to the large debate, which
should come first, hydrogen vehicles or hydrogen Fossil fuels have devastating impacts on the environment
distribution centers. Fortunately, engineers have opposing due to the large scale usage in modern American society. In
ideas on how to solve this issue, leading to both items being order for gasoline to be obtained to power the average
created simultaneously. Individuals like Tom Sullivan are vehicle in the United States, crude oil is pumped up from
commercializing the distribution of hydrogen for HPVs. beneath the soil, and then shipped across the Atlantic to the
Sullivan is currently the owner of both SunHydro and Proton U.S. Next, the crude oil is processed into gasoline and
Energy, with plans to expand his companies, which shipped to local distributors throughout the nation.
specialize in solar energy, in the direction of clean hydrogen Furthermore, after this entire process is complete, the
production. He plans to build ten to fifteen hydrogen gasoline is burned which releases greenhouse gases as an
distribution centers approximately 300 miles apart that exhaust. In fact, the average vehicle produces over 20lbs of
stretch down the East Coast. This is similar to what already CO2 gas per gallon or 6 to 9 tons per year . This is
exist on the West Coast. These stations will produce devastating when multiplied by the over 1 billion vehicles
hydrogen through the electrolysis of water while being that are driven daily in the world as of 2010 . Hydrogen
powered by solar panels. This project is projected to cost fuel is a nearly perfect replacement when finding an
$200,000 per station to build the stations . Sullivan is not alternative fuel that is much more environmentally friendly.
the only person who is investing in a future in this industry. For starters, since hydrogen is so readily available, it is
General Motors is paring with The Gas Company (TGC) in completely unnecessary to import this fuel from other
Hawaii to set up hydrogen fuel providers across the entire nations thus drastically decreasing the carbon footprint.
state. Jeffrey Kissel, president and CEO of TGC claimed, However, a major hurtle still stands in the way of
“We have been delivering as much as 12 percent hydrogen accomplishing this goal. “(Currently) 95 percent of the
made from renewable sources to our gas customers over the hydrogen available in the U.S. is either extracted from fossil
last two to three years and expect we can deliver even fuels or made using…fossil fuels” . This is
greater quantities of hydrogen as demand increases” . counterproductive to the idea of using a fuel that greatly
This, however, is only a start on what would be a major decreases the amount of greenhouse gases created in its
overhaul on the entire automotive refueling infrastructure production, distribution, and usage. According to Stanford
that would cost billions of dollars to accomplish and could University researchers in 2005, it would be better for the
possibly hinder the economy short term. Currently, there is environment to drive a gasoline/electric hybrid rather than a
no alternative to make this investment any less costly, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle if the hydrogen was obtained from
proving that it is the biggest obstacle for the future of HPVs. coal. However, there is a solution to this problem.
The issue surrounding the ‘Hydrogen Economy’ has been a Hydrogen can be obtained from water using wind, thus
major subject of debate over the past decade. It is currently completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels in the equation.
estimated that in order to construct and maintain a hydrogen This can be accomplished through wind power such as a
infrastructure, it could cost up to 500 billion dollars . wind mill to power water electrolysis which removes
Former U.S. President George W. Bush proclaimed in his hydrogen from H2O leaving behind oxygen, thus resulting in
2003 State of the Union, “With a new national commitment, no harmful byproducts . In addition to this, the process
our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to involved in extracting the chemical energy from hydrogen
taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the produces only water vapor and oxygen as a product. This
first car driven by a child born today could be powered by means in theory that if hydrogen fuel is made and used in the
proper fashion, no fossil fuels will be used in its production. Resources
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We would like to thank Mary Beth Biddle for motivating us
to keep up with deadlines and helping us with any issues we
face. In addition, we would like to thank our parents for
their everlasting support for whatever decisions we make
regarding our future.