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Electric Cars and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

Rechargeable Batteries vs. Fuel Cells


Jack F. Eichler
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside


This “clicker case” provides students with an overview of batteries and fuel cells and the oxidation-reduction reactions used in these devices. The context for this overview is a comparison of battery-electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Students are also introduced to photoelectrochemical cells and learn how these devices are being developed to produce hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight. The case is delivered as a PowerPoint presentation containing periodic questions that students answer with clickers (personal response systems) or suitable alternatives. The case was originally designed for use in either the second semester or third quarter of a general chemistry course, and presupposes a background in oxidation-reduction reactions, Galvanic cells, and standard reduction potentials. Prior to class, students are assigned to read sections of two journal articles and an industry white paper; access to these articles may vary by institution, but an alternative open-access resource (Wikipedia article) is available.


  • Identify oxidation and reduction half-reactions in electrochemical reactions.
  • Calculate the cell potential voltage for spontaneous electrochemical reactions in batteries and fuel cells.
  • Learn about the different types of batteries used in everyday applications, and more specifically about the type of rechargeable batteries that are used in battery electric vehicles (“electric cars”).
  • Learn how batteries and fuel cells operate.
  • Learn how photoelectrochemical cells are used to generate hydrogen fuel from water, and how to calculate the overpotential required to drive a water splitting PEC device.
  • Identify the advantages and disadvantages of battery electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell cars.


Electrochemistry; oxidation-reduction; standard potential; batteries; fuel cells; Tesla; BEV; PEC; photoelectrochemical

Topical Areas

Policy issues, Social issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Chemistry (General)  |   Chemical Engineering  |   Engineering (General)  |   Environmental Science  |  

Date Posted


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