​University of Waterloo says new fuel cell ‘economically practical’

Xianguo Li with a fuel cell test vehicle in his lab. Image: University of Waterloo

Researchers at the University of Waterloo say they have developed a new fuel cell that lasts at least 10 times longer than current technology, an improvement that would make them economically practical, if mass-produced, to power vehicles with electricity.

The cost could be comparable or even cheaper than gasoline engines with their approach, according to a statement by Xianguo Li, director of the Fuel Cell and Green Energy Lab at Waterloo.

“Researchers initially concentrated on hybrid vehicles, which now have gas engines as well as batteries due to issues involving limited driving range and long charging times. Existing fuel cells could theoretically replace those gas engines, which power generators to recharge batteries while hybrid vehicles are in operation, but are impractical because they are too expensive,” the university said.

“The researchers solved that problem with a design that makes fuel cells far more durable by delivering a constant, rather than fluctuating, amount of electricity. That means the cells, which produce electricity from the chemical reaction when hydrogen and oxygen are combined to make water, can be far simpler and therefore far cheaper.”

Researchers hope the introduction of fuel cells in hybrid vehicles will lead to mass production and lower unit costs, the university said.

“That could pave the way for the replacement of both batteries and gas engines entirely by providing an affordable, safe, dependable, clean source of electrical power.”