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Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Basics

Fuel cell electric vehicles use fuel cell stacks to convert onboard gaseous hydrogen to electricity, which is then stored in a battery to power the vehicle's electric motor.

Cutaway diagram illustrating components of a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle. Components under the hood include (from the front of the vehicle) a thermal cooling system (rectangular flat box) adjacent to an auxiliary battery (small rectangular box), a DC/DC converter (rectangular box), a power electronics controller (larger rectangular box), a transmission (cylinder with ridges), and an electric traction motor (larger cylinder). Toward the middle of the vehicle is a fuel cell stack (large flat box with ridges). Toward the back of the vehicle is a hydrogen fuel tank (two large cylinders), a battery pack (box with small compartments along the top), and a fuel filler (fueling nozzle).

As with other electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles are equipped with regenerative braking systems to capture the kinetic energy normally lost during breaking and store it in the battery.

Fuel cell electric vehicles are more efficient than conventional vehicles and produce no tailpipe emissions—they emit only water vapor and warm air. They can travel 300 to 400 miles on a tank of hydrogen and can refuel in three to five minutes.

Additional Resources

Learn about NREL's research efforts in transportation and mobility and hydrogen and fuel cells.

For more information about fuel cell electric vehicles, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Use the Alternative Fueling Station Locator to find publicly accessible hydrogen fueling stations in the United States.