Low-Carbon Technologies: Transport Fuel Cells

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Fuel cells create electricity via electrochemical reactions.  Fuel cell-equipped vehicles thus produce electricity to power electric motors.  Fuel cells currently reduce transportation emissions and fossil fuel use by at least 20%, but ongoing research is focused on overcoming obstacles to further reductions.  The major contribution to fuel cell-related emissions occurs during the hydrogen fuel supply stage.  Based on cost determinants such as energy feedstock transportation and recovery, energy conversion to fuel cell-compatible hydrogen, hydrogen transportation and distribution, and vehicle operations, it is currently most cost-effective to derive hydrogen from natural gas rather than renewable sources.  However, the reaction from which hydrogen is produced for use in fuel cells emits significant waste product.  While natural gas remains the cheapest hydrogen provider, greenhouse gases will not be most effectively mitigated.  Improvements in renewable energy technologies, and subsequent price reductions in the use of such technologies, will incentivize the use of these technologies and lead to reduced emissions.

Fuel cell-powered vehicles produce much less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles.  Policies such as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard recognize the growing potential of fuel cell vehicles within the transportation sector and implement initiatives reflecting attainable emission levels.  Such policies do leave room for improvements in fuel cell technology.  The cost and durability of fuel cells are more frequently criticized but also the most elements of research.