Fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV)

Fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV)

What is a fuel cell vehicle ?


A fuel cell vehicle is an electric vehicle with an engine powered by a fuel cell. The term is also used.

Depending on their design, fuel cells used in vehicles to produce electricity operate using hydrogen, methanol or even ethanol.

Today's most advanced technologies are based on fuel cells operating using liquid hydrogen (LH2) or gaseous hydrogen (GH2).


The features of a fuel cell vehicle

Low carbon technology requiring further development

Like all electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles do not release carbon dioxide. A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle only produces water and air and does not present a danger to the environment.

The problem: hydrogen does not occur naturally. To produce it, it is necessary to use certain processes such as electrolysis; this requires a lot of electricity which is still often generated from fossil fuels. Under these conditions, its carbon footprint is not as good as it might seem and fuel costs remain high.


Increased autonomy restricted by safety issues

By using a fuel cell and a battery to power the engine, the vehicle's autonomy can be almost doubled compared to a battery electric vehicle (BEV).

In addition, refilling at a hydrogen refuelling station takes just a few minutes, which represents a considerable time saving compared to recharging the battery of a battery electric vehicle.

However, the of hydrogen can be complex. Not counting the safety problems in its management which slows down the development of these technologies due to high risks of ignition and explosion of the fuel.


Examples and application

For its motorisation, a fuel cell electric vehicle comprises several parts:

  • a hydrogen tank which serves as the fuel cell ;
  • a fuel cell equipped with two electrodes and an electrolyte which allows electricity to be produced through an oxidation-reduction reaction ;
  • a gearbox inverter responsible for converting direct current into alternating current and adapting the engine speed ;
  • and the engine.


Fuel cell electric vehicles in numbers

Although the global market remains a well-kept secret, sales of hydrogen electric vehicles are increasing year-on-year.

Thus, 10, 300 hydrogen electric vehicles were sold worldwide between January and July 2021. That is twice the 4,900 vehicles sold in the same period in 2020.

In the first 7 months of 2021, Hyundai and Toyota led the sales charts with 5,300 and 4,100 vehicles sold respectively.

In Europe, the trend is also up with a 40% increase in registrations in 2020 compared with 2019. In 2020, 864 hydrogen vehicles were sold in Europe. With 311 vehicles registered, Germany topped the rankings in 2020, ahead of France (211 vehicles registered) and the Netherlands (175 vehicles registered).


Regulatory framework

At international level, the International Standard Organization (ISO) is responsible for hydrogen-related standards.

Two hydrogen standards have already been published:

· ISO 13984 concerning the interfaces of filling systems for liquid hydrogen vehicles ;

· ISO 14687 concerning the characteristics of hydrogen fuel.

In Europe, the EIHP project (European Integrated Hydrogen Project) is working on a European regulation concerning hydrogen vehicles and the distribution infrastructure to be implemented. It brings together vehicle constructors, gas distributors, manufacturers and users.