Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

Hydrogen Technology and Infrastructure

The South Coast AQMD initiated the groundwork for a distributed hydrogen refueling network that will allow the fuel cell vehicles unhindered access throughout the Basin and help promote the commercialization of fuel cell vehicles.  Despite the selection of hydrogen as the current fuel of choice for the demonstration vehicles, there are various production, storage, and dispensing strategies still under consideration for the long-term infrastructure solution.  As a result, further development of these refueling technologies is planned.

The economical production of hydrogen for these vehicles and, to the extent necessary, for stationary applications, is also a key area in need of development and demonstration. In particular, the production of hydrogen from renewable sources is of interest, either using photovoltaics and electrolyzer technologies or biomass feedstocks and reformation technologies due to the potential for higher lifecycle efficiencies and lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fuels.  Such renewable energy projects would provide data to help understand and benchmark critical parameters for enabling these technologies.

Furthermore, as an interim step toward full fuel cell vehicle deployment and as a means of testing and verifying the hydrogen infrastructure, hydrogen internal combustion engines (ICEs) and hydrogen-CNG (compressed natural gas) blended fuel (HCNG) vehicles will be developed and demonstrated. Hydrogen ICE and HCNG vehicles, which utilize conventional engine technologies, represent potentially cost-effective hydrogen vehicle options. The emissions, although higher than those of fuel cell vehicles, can be optimized for emissions lower than dedicated CNG vehicles.

Fuel Cell Technology

Fuel cells are emerging as a leading alternative technology to replace more polluting ICEs in vehicle, marine, and stationary distributed energy applications. There are a handful of different fuel cell technologies and fuels being considered for these applications. 

On the mobile side, the first demonstration vehicles are using proton exchange membrane (PEM ) fuel cells and compressed hydrogen as the fuel, but the long-term infrastructure requirements, stack durability, and any synergistic relationship to stationary applications remain uncertain. Considerable research, development, and demonstration efforts are already underway to address these issues by some of the largest automobile manufacturers and fuel suppliers. Yet much work is needed to improve the performance and range of these vehicles, reduce costs, develop a viable fueling infrastructure, and obtain public acceptance for a new technology in everyday applications.

On the stationary side, many of the same technology issues exist and can be potentially easier to address due to constant load applications and larger space availability for the stack and balance of plant/component integration. It is hoped that cross-cutting advances in the technology can then be transferred and applied to mobile applications. Examples are fuel cell vehicles which can put power back into the electrical grid or co-location of the fuel cell DG at fueling stations to provide power for compressors or pumping.

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