April 20, 2024

Researchers Explore the Potential of Fuel Cell-Powered Vehicles to Strengthen Electrical Grids

University of Waterloo scientists are investigating the use of idle electric vehicles (EVs) as mobile generators to support and enhance strained and aging electricity grids. The researchers have analyzed the energy demand on Alberta’s power grid during rush hour and have proposed a novel approach to replenishing electrical grids through power generated from fuel cells in trucks.

Dr. XiaoYu Wu, lead researcher and a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, highlights the need to upgrade Canada’s power grids. Due to Alberta’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels for power generation, the grid in the province experiences unstable and volatile prices, along with high carbon emissions. These factors create an opportunity for clean energy storage solutions to contribute to the stabilization of demand and price of electricity.

Building on the concept of vehicle-to-grid technology, which enables the return of unused energy from EV batteries to the power grid for storage, the research team proposes compensating drivers of fuel cell-powered trucks to rest during rush hour. While resting, the drivers can plug their vehicles into a hydrogen refueling station or pipeline, allowing the idle fuel cells of the trucks to generate electricity and supply it to the grid. This approach reduces vehicle traffic on highways, lowers energy consumption during peak times, and offers a cleaner energy storage solution.

Waterloo graduate student Daniel Ding developed a mathematical model to simulate the operation and used software to analyze the feasibility and potential of using hydrogen fuel cell-powered EVs to balance the load on the grid. According to Ding, hydrogen fuel cells offer advantages over other fuels, such as batteries, as they require less investment and produce less pollution during disposal. Preliminary findings suggest that utilizing existing fuel cells in future EVs can help decrease costs on the grid.

In addition to trucks, this energy storage solution has potential applications for heavy-duty vehicles and trains, such as idled switcher locomotives used for changing train routes. Dr. Wu predicts that as the demand for decarbonizing heavy-duty vehicles increases, the fleet of fuel cell electric vehicles will expand rapidly. Connecting these vehicles to the grid for peak-shifting purposes can provide economic incentives for adopting hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles and contribute to the development of a large-scale hydrogen economy.

To validate these preliminary findings, the researchers plan to conduct lab and field tests to assess the real-world applicability of their research. The project is supported by the Transition Accelerator, Mitacs, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). This study is part of Waterloo’s Sustainable Futures Initiative, which aims to position the University as a global leader in sustainability research, education, and innovation for the benefit of the environment, economy, and society.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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