Pem Fuel Cells For Automotive Applications

PEM fuel cell technology is rapidly emerging as a viable propulsion alternative to the internal combustion engine. Fuel cells offer the advantages of low emissions, high efficiency, fuel flexibility, quiet and continuous operation, and modularity. Over the last decade, dramatic advances have been achieved in the performance and cost of PEM fuel cell technologies for automotive applications. However, significant technical barriers remain to making fuel cell propulsion systems viable alternatives to the internal combustion engine. This paper focuses on the progress achieved and remaining technical barriers while highlighting Government-industry R&D efforts that are accelerating fuel cell technology toward commercialization.


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is spearheading an ambitious, cost-shared, Government-industiy R&D program with the goal of developing highly efficient, low or zero emission, automotive fuel cell propulsion systems utilizing conventional and alternative fuels. The near-term objective of the program is to validate fuel cell power systems by the year 2000 that are:

• Greater than 51 percent energy efficient at 40-kW maximum power;

• More than 100 times cleaner than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier II emissions;

• Capable of operating on gasoline, methanol, ethanol, natural gas, or hydrogen.

Longer-term objectives (by year 2004) are to validate fuel cell propulsion systems that meet consumer expectations, i.e., have competitive costs with internal combustion engines and equivalent or better performance, range, safety, and reliability.

A major driver for the Transportation Fuel Cell Program is the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), which has selected PEM fuel cells as one of three primary propulsion candidates for achieving the goal of tripling automobile fuel economy (80 miles per gallon [mpg] mid-size sedan). Vehicle systems analyses have been performed to establish a matrix of technological approaches. Figure 1 illustrates the approximate "design space" for possible alternative approaches

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