- Volkswagen has applied for the registration of a patent for a new hydrogen fuel cell that will be able to give cars a range of up to 2,000 kilometers without refueling.
- The patent application carried out together with the German company Kraftwerk Tubes, shows that Volkswagen does not want to lose the hydrogen train and is working ‘stealthily’ ahead in developing the tech.
While electric cars need recharching, Hydrogen fuel cells are capable of generating their own electricity. For this they need a high-pressure tank that stores the hydrogen in gas form —if it were liquid it would need to be stored at very low temperatures— and a fuel cell that converts hydrogen into electricity.
Fuel cells also have an anode and a cathode like batteries. Hydrogen enters through the anode and passes through an electrolyte membrane which is responsible for dividing hydrogen (H2) into a proton (H+) and an electron (e-). An electrolyte then causes them to take different paths to the cathode.
The electrons go through an external circuit creating a flow of electricity—which is what makes the car’s engine work—while the protons pass through the electrolyte to the cathode. There they unite with oxygen, which enters directly to the cathode, and with the electron, producing water and heat. However, Volkswagen and Kraftwerk’s fuel cell puts a spin on materials traditionally used for membranes.
Sascha Kühn, Kraftwerk CEO explains, “The big advantage of our solution is that it can be produced much cheaper than polymer fuel cells and it does not require any type of platinum”, a precious metal that makes the final cost of the product more expensive.”
This technology, Kühn says, resembles solid-state batteries. According to the executive, both have almost the same electrolytes and a similar material structure. The difference is that, while solid-state batteries use a compact material to store energy, in fuel cells that role is assumed by hydrogen in gas form.
In addition, the new ceramic membrane, says Kühn, does not need to be moistened, so it does not freeze in winter, dry out in summer, or attract mold. The manager also points to another advantage that will save costs in the manufacture of vehicles: the fuel cell generates heat that can be used both to replace the car’s heating and air conditioning, which would also mean greater energy savings.
”Lithium is definitely not a way forward. Solid-state battery would be an option, but it’s not there yet,” explains Kühn, who sees his technology as an alternative for drivers who don’t have a suitable charging option at home or do not want to waste their time at charging stations. According to the executive, with his system “we can travel up to 2,000 kilometers with a single tank of fuel.”
Author: Bryan Groenendaal