Long-Term Prospects for PEMFC and SOFC in Vehicle Applications 2002-01-0414
After about a decade of considerable investments in polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEMFC) and in solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology, both are being actively considered for vehicle applications. The two vehicle applications being most actively considered for fuel cells are propulsion (mainly for PEMFC) and auxiliary power (for both PEMFC and SOFC). For all transportation applications, fuel cells promise the benefits of clean and quiet operation, potentially low maintenance and high efficiency, and ultimately greater utility to drivers and passengers.
Initial system and vehicle prototypes have started to demonstrate some of these benefits, but much technology development is still needed before commercialization can occur. Not surprisingly then, there are serious hurdles to be overcome if fuel cells are to become true competitors for internal combustion engines (ICEs) in automotive applications. The most serious hurdle appears to be manufactured cost, which would appear to be several times too high for propulsion applications to be competitive, based on today's technology. Another considerable hurdle is power density, which is critical to be able to develop compelling fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) without sacrificing vehicle utility or performance. Finally, proving and improving system life should receive far more attention than has been the case so far.
While the barriers may seem daunting, the automotive industry and other stakeholders are bringing many of the critical scientific and engineering resources to bear on solving the problem.