What’s going on and what’s the future with this other eco-friendly alternative, the hydrogen fuel cell car? Here are the pros and cons.
For starters, what is hydrogen (H2)?
Hydrogen (H2) is the smallest and lightest element, consisting of a single proton (a small positively charged particle) and an electron (a small negatively charged particle).
As a gas, hydrogen is colorless, odorless, non-corrosive, non-oxidizing, non-radioactive, non-carcinogenic and non-toxic. Hydrogen is produced when electricity is used to separate water into oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H2). Because this process is also reversible, hydrogen can be converted into electricity by adding oxygen, releasing water as a by-product. Hydrogen is therefore completely FREE of CO2 and therefore an optimal alternative without emissions.
How does a hydrogen fuel cell car work?
Just as an “ordinary” electric car is equipped with a battery, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has electric motors. The only difference is that a hydrogen car has only a small battery and one or more hydrogen tanks, as well as a fuel cell. With the addition of oxygen, this energy fuel cell converts hydrogen into electricity and produces water through an electrochemical process. Electricity is used to provide the car battery with the necessary energy and clean water is expelled in the form of water vapor.
Are hydrogen cars a viable alternative to EV?
We compared some facts about hydrogen cars with electric EV, as well as petrol and diesel cars, to find out if the hydrogen car could become a serious competitor.
Pros: In addition to the emission discharge, an important advantage of hydrogen cars is that the supply is comparable to the filling of an LPG tank. This means, unlike the relatively long charging time of the electric EV, with a hydrogen car, you can return to the road within 3-4 minutes. Most hydrogen cars also have a longer range than the “normal” EV’ ones.
Despite these great advantages, there are few initially adopting hydrogen, which means that petrol stations in much of Europe are quite rare – making the stress of autonomy an important issue.
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It is the classic chicken and egg dilemma: few drivers are equivalent to a few petrol stations, and a few petrol stations mean that fewer people are likely to choose a hydrogen car. What’s more, while there are more and more electrified EV’s to choose from, there’s only a limited number of hydrogen models in circulation today, with the Hyundai Nexo, Honda Clarity and the Toyota Mirai being three of the most prominent.
Another issue is cost. As hydrogen is an emerging technology, residual prices are still uncertain, which means that the monthly rental rate in many countries is relatively high compared to battery-powered or ICE-powered electric vehicles. Hydrogen cars are also eligible for a variety of tax advantages, which can make them an economically attractive alternative for drivers of leased vehicles.
Some experts also believe that the hydrogen used with fuel cells is ideal for the heavy transport sector (think trucks, trains and ships) and industrial applications that require heat and electricity.
The Hydrogen Council, a global initiative of energy, transport and industry companies, predicts that by 2050 hydrogen can power over 400 million passenger cars worldwide, as well as around 20 million trucks and 5 million buses.