Cars Which Emit Nothing But Water

By Sujith Mohandas (L&T MHPS)

Cars earlier which was a thing of luxury for most of the Indians, have now become a necessity. Attractive financial options, poor public transportation infrastructure and every rising standard of living has made cars a must have for an Indian family for their commuting needs. But this has led to numerous issues and pollution being the prime concern. PM 2.5 levels have crossed even the hazardous level and it has become a serious matter of concern. The government has started a number of measures to tackle this problem. One such measure being selling of only electric vehicles by 2030. A very highly ambitious plan according to most of the automotive critics.

Developed countries have developed plans to sell all-electric cars in the near future and are already providing subsidy to EV (electric vehicles). They have started developing energy infrastructure for promoting EV like charging stations and self-charging lanes. Lots of money are being poured in for research in the field of EV vehicles. After the success of Tesla Motors being the role model for EV, other automotive giants like BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Fiat, Ford and others have started rolling out electric vehicles.

Indian being a developing country with developing energy infrastructure can dream like developing countries? This would require huge infrastructure cost and development.  Of the circa 200 million vehicles which currently ply India’s roads, less than one percent is electric. And this internal combustion engine-powered fleet is growing rapidly, currently at a rate of nearly 50,000 new motor vehicle registrations per day — which includes commercial vehicles, the ubiquitous three-wheelers or auto rickshaws, buses and taxis, as well as private scooters and car. The shift to electric vehicles (EVs) will need an investment of ₹1.8 lakh crore in setting up charging stations and other infrastructure in the country, according to a report by Feedback Consulting.

So what is the next viable option in place of electric vehicles? The answer might be hydrogen-based fuel cells. Imagine your car emitting only water from the exhaust and you can instantly fill your fuel up like we do it now in case of petrol and diesel cars without waiting for the car to get charged. Sounds great, doesn’t it.

A fuel cell vehicle (FCV) or fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is a type of electric vehicle which uses a fuel cell, instead of a battery, or in combination with a battery or supercapacitor, to power its onboard electric motor. Fuel cells in vehicles generate electricity to power the motor, generally using oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen. As compared with internal combustion vehicles, hydrogen vehicles centralize pollutants at the site of the hydrogen production, where hydrogen is typically derived from reformed natural gas which is a similar case of EV.

Diagrammatic Representation of  Working of Hydrogen Fuel Cell 

All fuel cells are made up of three parts: an electrolyte, an anode and a cathode. In principle, a hydrogen fuel cell functions like a battery, producing electricity, which can run an electric motor. Instead of requiring recharging, however, the fuel cell can be refilled with hydrogen. Different types of fuel cells include polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) Fuel Cells, direct methanol fuel cells, phosphoric acid fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, solid oxide fuel cells, reformed methanol fuel cell and Regenerative Fuel Cells. They are highly efficient in comparison to traditional Internal Combustion engine using diesel.

Toyota Mirai, Hydrogen Fuel Cell Based Car

Hydrogen fuel cells don’t suffer the EVs’ main drawback of limited range. The Tesla Model S can go about 300 miles (480 kilometres) on a single charge, although that varies depending on driving conditions, and that’s quite a distance for an EV. Considering this fact, Uchiyamada believes hydrogen holds tremendous potential. He further adds “Hydrogen doesn’t exist in the natural world on its own, but you can create hydrogen from various materials”.

Sectional Representation demonstrating function and components of a Hydrogen based Fuel Cell Car

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had come out with a demonstration vehicle using hydrogen itself as fuel. G Madhavan Nair, the former chairman of the space agency, has stated that hydrogen-based system would be the right choice in the long run given its potential to become the fuel of the next generation. “Disposing of lithium-ion batteries (LiBs) after use in EVs is going to be “tough”. Lithium cannot be thrown around without proper disposal. There has to be an adequate mechanism for collection and reprocessing,” Nair further stated.

TATA Starbus Hybrid developed jointly by TATA Motors and Indian Space Research Organization

However there great challenges too for implementing hydrogen-based fuel cells Vehicles. The hydrogen fuel cell that directly powers vehicles is “pretty expensive these days” and, so, one has to evolve a low-cost fuel cells technology, to make them viable. How to generate hydrogen in an economical way and then how to make fuel cells are some of the technology challenges.

Whether India opts for EV or Fuel Cell-based vehicles is dependent on us and the Indian government. No matter which future option we choose for future, India should open its doors for Research if it wants to be economically and environmentally stable. Indian being a vast talent pool has a great ability to achieve greatness and we all should contribute towards the betterment and future of our country.



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