In the advancements of electric vehicles, the use of hydrogen as the energy source for the fuel cells is becoming an excellent alternative to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), when it comes to zero emissions mobility. Hydrogen FCEVs are lighter compared to other BEVs, have more range, and produce zero greenhouse gas emissions. Also, they can be considered to be more sustainable, in not having to deal long term with the disposal of lithium batteries which is the energy source of BEVs. Unlike lithium batteries, hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to be recycled and reused, with the potential for almost zero waste on top of the near zero emissions they produce. There are already many advancements being made in the refurbishment of fuel cells, which should give them an advantage long-term over batteries regarding sustainability, cost-effective solutions, and product lifecycle management.
Some companies are specifically applying this advantage to the use of city buses, although the benefits could apply to any large fleet owner that is looking to save money and keep materials out of landfills. Fuel cells usually reach their end of life within about 150,000-200,000 miles of use, depending on the application. At that point, the Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA) will have worn out. But advancements in current technology allow for refurbishment of the fuel cell stack using the latest MEA technology and by reusing the plates and hardware. The refurbished fuel cells can then be returned to the original owner at a fraction of the cost of a new stack while meeting the same specifications.
Graphite plates are also reusable and approximately 95% of the platinum in a fuel cell can be reclaimed. Reclaimed platinum would then become available for use in another product, resulting in total life cycle management. This option is not available with lithium batteries.
This recyclability is another example of how hydrogen fuel cells can provide more options for sustainability and cost effectiveness to BEV batteries. Not only can hydrogen fuel cells provide a zero-emission alternative to diesel-powered vehicles, but they also have the potential to be nearly zero-waste as well. With new advancements in the refurbishment and recycling options of fuel cells components, this is just another one of the advantages of using hydrogen as a global energy source and supports compelling arguments that the hydrogen age is here.