Hydrogen fuel cells are a clean, reliable, quiet, and efficient source of high-quality electric power. They use hydrogen as a fuel to drive an electrochemical process that produces electricity, with water and heat as the only by-products. The two main applications for hydrogen fuel cells are in stationary power sources and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).

Hydrogen is an abundant constituent element in water, biomass, and fossil hydrocarbons. The greenhouse gas intensity (and other environmental impacts) of hydrogen production depends on the sources and processes through which the hydrogen is derived. It can be extracted from water using electrolysis, using power from renewable solar or wind, nuclear energy, or fossil energy. It can be extracted from renewable biomass or coal using high temperature gasification. Or, using chemical catalysts, it can be derived from renewable biogas, renewable ethanol or methanol, or fossil natural gas. Today, most hydrogen is derived from fossil natural gas, emitting fossil carbon dioxide as a by-product.

The power production capacity of stationary fuel cells can range from a few kilowatts to a thousand kilowatts (one megawatt) or more. They are used to power office buildings, data centers, grocery stores, and remote, off-grid telecommunication towers. Because they can be located on site, electrical transmission losses are eliminated, increasing overall system efficiency. Fuel cells allow owners to operate independently from the power grid, which is especially important for entities that cannot afford power supply disruptions. The heat produced by the fuel cell can be used for space and water heating or industrial processes, again, increasing overall system efficiency.

A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is a type of electric vehicle that uses a fuel cell instead of a battery to power the car. FCVs have a driving range similar to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine – 250 to 400 miles per tank of fuel. FCVs are commercially available for lease, but hydrogen refueling infrastructure does not exist yet in most parts of the country. California has a few stations in operation, and more under construction. Although the cost of hydrogen is more expensive than gasoline on an energy equivalent basis, because the electric drive system is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine, the fuel costs are roughly equivalent on a distance traveled basis.


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