Do hydrogen fuel cells need maintenance?

Fuel cells have no moving parts, potentially making them much more reliable than combustion engines and wind turbines (and are significantly quieter to operate). Stationary fuel cells, in particular, need very little maintenance (and maintenance is required once every one to three years). Maintenance is not so much unnecessary as it is impossible. The only repair option is to buy a new one or rely on a cast iron warranty.

And yet, there is a fairly harsh interruption in the life of the vehicle. In the comparison between battery-powered electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, maintenance is actually the biggest difference between technologies.

Hydrogen fuel cell

technology offers customers the advantages of a clean and reliable alternative energy source in a growing number of applications: electric vehicles, including forklifts, delivery vans, drones and cars; primary and backup energy for a variety of commercial, industrial and residential buildings; and applications that sound more futuristic, such as air taxis. When the industry's first class 8 electric truck running on a hydrogen fuel cell and battery pack was introduced, its ability to significantly reduce fleet maintenance costs was touted.

In the case of fuel cells, the problems are the operating hours and lifespan of fuel cells, and whether your company should invest in an asset that works hard and has a long lifespan, with consistent operating expenses, where you can manage lifetime costs. The fuel cell runs on 100% emission-free hydrogen gas stored on board in a pressurized tank that can hold 165 to 220 pounds of fuel. The service elements could include, for example, replacing a fuel line or a valve outside the hydrogen tank itself, although Reed emphasized that under no circumstances do the hydrogen tank valves open during such maintenance operations. General maintenance of the Toyota Mirai, a passenger car that runs on hydrogen fuel cells, includes checking the tires and brake pads and the fluid to cool the electric motor and fuel cell, “and that is changed once a year,” he said.

However, important parts that can be expensive do not move, and while there are fewer moving parts than a diesel engine, it is currently more expensive to maintain fuel cell vehicles. The automaker Toyota Motor North America is participating in a California-based feasibility study of class 8 hydrogen fuel cells, but did not elaborate. Most importantly, however, in the case of some fuel cell technologies, the battery can also be reconditioned for a fraction of the cost of a new system. Air compressors are a wear element and chemical filters to ensure that the air is clean for the fuel cell are manufactured in a small volume and are currently expensive.

If the sealed high-pressure hydrogen storage system and fuel cell stack are not involved, a hydrogen vehicle has almost the same service needs as any other car powered by an electric motor. Hydrogen fuel cells (HFCs) do not produce harmful emissions, eliminating the costs associated with handling and storing toxic materials such as battery acid or diesel fuel. Therefore, in the case of fuel cells, wear and tear does not affect performance too much and all the parts that matter can be replaced or repaired. The magic of the PEM fuel cell is its proton exchange membrane, which looks like a piece of construction paper, and works by passing hydrogen through the anode side and oxygen through the cathode side.


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