Car features Hydrogen fuel cell cars

A fuel cell car powered by liquid hydrogen is the zero-emission car of the future that many carmakers envisage. 

It’s a simple premise: take an electric car, powered by batteries and an electric motor, and install a hydrogen fuel cell (which generates electricity from the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen) that can extend the range when the batteries go flat.

The thinking is little different to that behind the Toyota Prius, except that here it is the fuel cell adding to the range of the electric motor, rather than a combustion engine.

Zero emissions

A prototype of Renault's Grand Scenic ZEV H2

A prototype of Renault's Grand Scenic ZEV H2

Earlier this year, Renault showed the Grand Scénic ZEV H2 concept, a fuel cell version of today’s Grand Scénic

A compact fuel cell sits below the front seats, with batteries installed in the floor below the rear passengers. 

The electric motor is under the bonnet, with the hydrogen tank occupying part of the boot. The car always runs on electric power, so it is silent and creates, literally, zero emissions. 

As the batteries flatten, the hydrogen fuel cell recharges them, thanks to the process of electrolysis. The only by-product of this is water.

Renault says that, even today, this gives a total range of 250 miles on a tankful of hydrogen. In the future, the company says that this will be nearer to 400 miles. 

The attraction of the system is mechanical simplicity, plus controls that will be familiar to current car drivers. 

Also, as the technology becomes more compact, it will be possible to install it in smaller models. However, there are plenty of problems to overcome before such a dream can become a reality. 

Production costs remain prohibitive, for a start, and a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is crucial for a hydrogen-powered car to be viable. 

It is also important that a renewable means of making the hydrogen is developed. Nevertheless, the fuel cell is still an avenue many carmakers are investigating.

Other sections in this guide

  1. Overview
  2. Green cars explained
  3. Hybrid cars
  4. Diesel hybrid cars
  5. Hydrogen hybrid cars
  6. Hydrogen fuel cell cars
  7. Stop-start systems
  8. Brake energy regeneration
  9. Gearbox and aero tweaks