Researchers at the University at Waterloo have claimed that advancements in zero-emission fuel cells could soon make them cheap enough to replace the traditional gasoline combustion engine in cars.
The scientists have developed a new fuel cell that they claim lasts 10 times longer than current technology, which would make it economically practical to power vehicles with electricity.
The breakthrough means that hybrid vehicles, which currently have gas engines as well as batteries and are limited by short range and long charging times, could use fuel cells to power generators to recharge batteries while the vehicle is in operation. However, current technology is too expensive.
The researchers solved that problem with a design that makes fuel cells far more durable by delivering a constant, rather than fluctuating, amount of electricity.
That means the cells, which produce electricity from the chemical reaction when hydrogen and oxygen are combined to make water, can be far simpler and therefore far cheaper.
“With our design approach, the cost could be comparable or even cheaper than gasoline engines,” said Xianguo Li, director of the Fuel Cell and Green Energy Lab at Waterloo.
““We have found a way to lower costs and still satisfy durability and performance expectations. We’re meeting economic targets while providing zero emissions for a transportation application.”
Researchers hope the introduction of fuel cells in hybrid vehicles will lead to mass production and lower unit costs. That could pave the way for the replacement of both batteries and gas engines entirely by providing an affordable, safe, dependable, clean source of electrical power.
“This is a good first step, a transition to what could be the answer to the internal combustion engine and the enormous environmental harm it does,” said Li.