General Studies IIIEnvironment and Ecology

Green Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle


Recently, the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways launched the world’s most advanced technology, Green Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) Toyota Mirai.

What is a fuel cell electric vehicle?

FCEVs use a propulsion system similar to that of electric vehicles, where energy stored as hydrogen is converted to electricity by the fuel cell. Unlike conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, these vehicles produce no harmful tailpipe emissions.

FCEVs are fueled with pure hydrogen gas stored in a tank on the vehicle. Similar to conventional internal combustion engine vehicles, they can fuel in less than 4 minutes and have a driving range over 300 miles. FCEVs are equipped with other advanced technologies to increase efficiency, such as regenerative braking systems that capture the energy lost during braking and store it in a battery. Major automobile manufacturers are offering a limited but growing number of production FCEVs to the public in certain markets, in sync with what the developing infrastructure can support.

How does the hydrogen fuel cell work in electric vehicles?

  • A fuel-cell electric vehicle is essentially a hybrid electric vehicle wherein, the internal combustion engine is replaced with a fuel-cell stack. The onboard sources of power include hydrogen as well as an advanced battery system.
  • The fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to generate an electric current, water being the only byproduct.
  • Fuel cells generate electricity through an electrochemical process.
  • And, there are no moving parts in the fuel cell, so they are more efficient and reliable by comparison.

Significance of this Achievement

  • Create Awareness about Green Hydrogen and FCEV Technology:
    • This is a first of its kind project in India which aims to create a Green Hydrogen based ecosystem in the country by creating awareness about the unique utility of Green Hydrogen and FCEV technology.
      • An MoU was also signed by Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt Ltd and the International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT) for a pilot project to evaluate the vehicle’s performance on Indian roads and climatic conditions.
        • ICAT is a leading world class automotive testing, certification and R&D service provider under the aegis of NATRiP (National Automotive Testing and R&d Infrastructure Project), Government of India.
  • Help India becoming Self-reliant’ by 2047:
    • It will promote clean energy and environmental protection by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and thereby make India ‘Energy Self-reliant’ by 2047.
  • Best Zero Emission Solutions:
    • Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV), powered by Hydrogen is one of the best Zero Emission solutions. It is completely environment friendly with no tailpipe emissions other than water.
      • Tailpipe emissions: Emission of something such as gas or radiation into the atmosphere.
      • Green Hydrogen can be generated from renewable energy and abundantly available biomass.
      • Introduction and adoption of technology to tap into the Green hydrogen’s potential will play a key role in securing a clean and affordable energy future for India.

Advantages and Disadvantages of fuel cells

  • Fuel cells have strong advantages over conventional combustion-based technologies currently used in many power plants and cars, given that they produce much smaller quantities of greenhouse gases and none of the air pollutants that cause health problems.
  • Also, if pure hydrogen is used, fuel cells emit only heat and water as a byproduct. Such cells are also far more energy-efficient than traditional combustion technologies.
  • Unlike battery-powered electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles do not need to be plugged in, and most models exceed 300 km of range on a full tank. They are filled up with a nozzle, just like in a petrol or diesel station.

Limitations of Fuel Cells EVs

  • While FCEVs do not generate gases that contribute to global warming, the process of making hydrogen needs energy — often from fossil fuel sources.
  • That has raised questions over hydrogen’s green credentials.
  • Also, there are questions of safety — hydrogen is more explosive than petrol.
  • Opponents of the technology cite the case of the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg airship in 1937.
  • The other major hurdle is that the vehicles are expensive, and fuel dispensing pumps are scarce.

Progress in India

  • In India, so far, the definition of EV only covers BEVs; the government has lowered taxes to 12%.
  • At 43%, hybrid electric vehicles and hydrogen FCEVs attract the same tax as IC vehicles.
  • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been supporting various such projects in academic institutions, research and development organisations and industry for development.

How FCEVs is different from an electric vehicle (EV)?

  • From a commercial viability standpoint, two cleaner fuel alternatives come to mind—battery-operated electric vehicles (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV).
  • Hydrogen FCEVs has reduced refuelling time (5 minutes versus 30-40 minutes with fast charges), higher energy density, longer range, etc.
  • However, one needs to focus on is the entire life cycle of these vehicles as opposed to restricting the analysis to just the carbon-free tailpipe emissions.
  • According to a report by Deloitte (2020) on hydrogen and fuel cells, the lifecycle GHG emissions from hydrogen FCEVs ranges between 130-230 g CO2e per km.
  • The lower end of the range depicts the case of hydrogen production from renewables while the higher end reflects the case of hydrogen production from natural gas.
  • The corresponding life cycles GHG emissions for BEV and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles range between 160-250 g CO2e and 180-270 g CO2e respectively.
  • The cost of lithium ion-based battery-operated vehicles has been reducing while hydrogen fuel cell technology is relatively quite expensive.
  • A hydrogen-run vehicle achieves an energy efficiency rate of 25-35% (roughly 45% of energy is lost during the electrolysis process alone).

Current status of Electric Vehicles in India:

  • In India, there’s a mixed performance by the auto sector when it comes to electric mobility.
  • While electric two-wheelers and three-wheelers have found a fair level of traction, other vehicle segments are far behind.
  • The Indian electric vehicle (EV) market saw a 20 percent growth in 2019-20 with sales of 156,000 units, of which 152,000 or 97 percent of total volume were two-wheelers.
  • Just 3,400 electric cars were sold in the world’s second-most populous nation during the last business year, compared to sales of 1.7 million conventional passenger cars.
  • The industry size doesn’t include sales in largely unorganised three-wheeler market, which is estimated to be at around 90,000 during the last financial year.

Government steps

  • FAME (faster adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles) scheme in its phase 2 has been going on.
  • EV policy – individual states are coming with EV policies. Eg. Recently the Maharashtra government came up with its policy till 2025.
  • Green colored number plates – the government has decided to use green colored number plates for EVs.
  • The Ministry of Power has issued a policy on charging infrastructure and has issued a notification clarifying that charging electric vehicles will be a service, not a sale of electricity.
  • Decision to promote aluminum batteries as an alternative to lithium batteries.
  • Electricity regulatory commissions have also brought out special tariffs for EV charging, and ARAI has introduced standards for AC & DC charging.
  • MoHUA has amended Building Bye-laws and Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation Guidelines to make charging infrastructure development as an integral part of urban planning, development and construction.
  • Suggestions
  • The country needs to learn from China. Here various steps are taken like allowing only EVs in business districts, reserving lanes on the road only for EVs etc.
  • There is a need to promote batteries research and production in India to reduce its cost.
  • There needs to be a target based approach as in the EU which tries to have EVs by 2035.
  • As Indian is a two wheeler driven country, the sector should get more focus.
  • Charging infrastructure should be improved by incentivising housing colonies, parking lots, malls etc along with petrol pumps as well along highways.

Source: PIB

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