India’s first Hydrogen Fuel Cell (HFC) electric hybrid car successfully completed its maiden test run last week in Pune.
This indigenously developed technology was a collaborative effort between scientists from two Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) labs – National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune and Central Electro Chemical Research Institute (CECRI), Karaikudi along with KPIT, Pune.
The technology, developed over four years, has the potential to reduce dependence on petrol and diesel once introduced in markets. This could mean fewer polluting emissions due to fuel combustion from vehicles.
In the HFC technology, hydrogen gas from the on-board gas cylinder interacts with the Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA) from the anode side to produce protons (positively charged particles) and electrons (negatively charged particles). The protons, after passing through the proton exchange membrane, interacts with oxygen from the local air available on the cathode side to produce water. The electrons flow through the outside circuit and produce electricity.
“Unlike vehicles running on fossil fuels, which emit polluting gases like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, the only by-product in HFC technology is water,” said Harshwardhan Pol, project leader from NCL.
In the recent demonstration, KPIT made use of an existing battery operated car in which a 10 kW electric (kWe) cell stack was retrofitted.
Deepesh Gujarathi, project leader, KPIT, said a car could travel at least 400 km in a single hydrogen fill cycle. This was true for Indian road driving conditions and when the vehicle speed was maintained at 60–65 kmh.
Depending on the vehicle, the number of the HFC assembly stacks can be varied, said Santoshkumar Bhat from CECRI.
“Another advantage is that this HFC is at least five to six times lighter than the traditional HFCs presently available in India,” said Bhat, the CECRI project lead.
According to experts, this technology is better suited for heavy commercial vehicles like trucks or buses, rather than passenger cars, and KPIT is also developing a similar technology for commercials vehicles.
“Normally, commercial vehicles carry a lot of dead weight in the form of multiple heavy batteries required to cover long distances. Since hydrogen is the lightest gas, the HFC replacement will address the problem,” Gujarathi said.
Maintenance of this hybrid vehicle will be required only once in five years, experts said. “The cell stacks can be easily replaced. We estimate such a requirement only after completion of at least 20,000 continuous running hours,” said Gujarathi.
But in order to make this technology commercially available, hydrogen refilling infrastructure, just like charging or fuelling stations for electric, petrol or diesel vehicles, will have to be set up.
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