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Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Power Research Continues/Fuel Cell Cars Enter the Market, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The fuel cell is nothing new, despite the excitement it is now generating.  It has been around since 1839, when Welsh physics professor William Grove created an operating model based on platinum and zinc components.  Much later, the U.S. Apollo space program used fuel cells for certain power needs in the Apollo space vehicles that traveled from the Earth to the Moon.
In basic terms, a fuel cell consists of quantities of hydrogen and oxygen separated by a catalyst.  Inside the cell, a chemical reaction within the catalyst generates electricity.  Byproducts of this reaction include heat and water.  Several enhancements to basic fuel cell technology are under research and development at various firms worldwide.  These include fuel cell membranes manufactured with advanced nanotechnologies and “solid oxide” technologies that could prove efficient enough to use on aircraft.  Another option for fuel cell membranes are those made of hydrocarbon, which cost about one-half a much as membranes using fluorine compounds.
Fuel cells require a steady supply of hydrogen.  Therein lies the biggest problem in promoting the widespread use of fuel cells:  how to create, transport and store the hydrogen.  At present, no one has been able to put a viable plan in place that would create a network of hydrogen fueling stations substantial enough to meet the needs of everyday motorists in the U.S. or anywhere else.
Many current fuel cells burn hydrogen extracted from such sources as gasoline, natural gas or methanol.  Each source has its advantages and disadvantages.  Unfortunately, burning a hydrocarbon such as oil, natural gas or coal to produce the energy necessary to create hydrogen results in unwanted emissions.  Ideally, hydrogen would be created using renewable, non-polluting means, such as solar power or wind power.  Also, nuclear or renewable sources could be used to generate electricity that would be used to extract hydrogen molecules from water.
The potential market for fuel cells encompasses diverse uses in fixed applications (such as providing an electric generating plant for a home or a neighborhood), portable systems (such as portable generators for construction sites) or completely mobile uses (powering anything from small hand-held devices to automobiles).  The likely advantages of fuel cells as clean, efficient energy sources are enormous.  The fuel cell itself is a proven technology—fuel cells are already in use, powering a U.S. Post Office in Alaska, for example.  (This project, in Chugach, Alaska, is the result of a joint venture between the local electric association and the U.S. Postal Service to install a one-megawatt fuel cell facility.)  Tiny fuel cells are also on the market for use in powering cellular phones and laptop computers.
Oil companies including BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and TotalEnergies SE have invested billions of dollars on green hydrogen projects.  The Hydrogen Council reported 680 large-scale green hydrogen projects planned globally as of 2022.  However, only about 10% of those reached final investment approval.
In July 2020, Hanwha Energy ( completed a 114-fuel cell plant in the Daesan Industrial Complex in Seosan, Korea with a capacity of 50-megawatts of electricity.  It was the largest industrial hydrogen fuel cell plant in the world at that time.  (The Shinincheon Bitdream Hydrogen Fuel Cell Power Plant in Incheon opened in 2021 and has a capacity of 78.96-megawatts.)
In Bridgeport, Connecticut, a 14.9-megawatt fuel-cell complex generates enough electricity to power 15,000 homes (out of a total 51,000 in the city).  In April 2015, a 1.4-megawatt cell went online at the University of Bridgeport.
U.S. industrial gas supplier Air Products & Chemicals ( built a “green hydrogen” plant in Saudi Arabia.  Hydrogen is manufactured utilizing electricity from nearby wind and solar farms.  This plant has a capacity of 4-gigawatts.  Similar green hydrogen plants are under development elsewhere in the world.
The trucking industry is becoming a new market for hydrogen-fueled transportation.  Nikola Corp. ( designs and manufactures heavy-duty commercial battery-electric vehicles (BEV) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV).  The company was founded in 2015, and is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona with manufacturing facilities in Arizona and in Germany.  In September 2023, Nikola announced the commercial launch of its HYLA brand hydrogen fuel cell electric truck.  The fuel-cell truck has a range of up to 500 miles and can be refilled in as little as 20 minutes.
The aviation industry (a massive user of fossil fuels) is also experimenting with hydrogen.  Unlike electric batteries, which are too heavy at present to be feasible in long-range aircraft, hydrogen delivers power even more efficiently than jet fuel when calculated by weight.  Jet fuel delivers 40 megajoules per kilogram of weight, while hydrogen delivers 140 megajoules per kilogram.  Universal Hydrogen ( and ZeroAvia ( are using hydrogen fuel cells to power light and regional aircraft.

SPOTLIGHT:  Sunhydrogen, Inc.
Sunhydrogen, Inc. ( is a pioneer in large scale solar-to-hydrogen plants.  It states that it has developed a “low-cost method” to harness solar cells to power hydrolysis—splitting water molecules so that hydrogen and oxygen are separated.  Part of the firm’s technology is based on nanotechnology.  See the YouTube video:

     Yet another breakthrough is the ability for wind turbines to create the energy needed to produce hydrogen.  (A strategy referred to as “green hydrogen.”) Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy is working with its parent company, Siemens Energy, to develop the technology onshore in Denmark.  Offshore projects are also under consideration.
A looming issue is that many people still have concerns about the safety of hydrogen.  Naturally gaseous at room temperature, storing hydrogen involves using pressurized tanks that can leak and, if punctured, could cause explosions.  It is also difficult to store enough hydrogen in a vehicle to take it the 300+ miles that drivers are used to getting on a tank of gasoline.  To do so, hydrogen must be compressed to 10,000 pounds per square inch and stored on board in bulky pressure tanks.

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