Hydrogen has been touted as the future fuel of the world, promising to deliver an abundance of carbon neutral energy by 2030. While battery-electric cars are seeing widespread growth over the globe, hydrogen cars are slower to the race with less people deciding to adopt these vehicles.
Car makers have been experimenting with hydrogen fuel technology for several years. Hydrogen is derived from the most abundant element in the universe and is clean, flexible and energy efficient; it can be used within both internal combustion engines and fuel cells, producing virtually no greenhouse gas emissions. The only significant emission is water vapor.
We asked our community whether they thought hydrogen was the fuel of the future, or if it was just a mere fantasy. A large 63% of our votes said that it was the future and 37% said they were not so sold on the idea. Although the majority believes that this will be the next step towards clean transportation, there are still a fair few that believe that it is not all that people think it to be.
Currently, there are only three mainstream hydrogen fuel cell cars on the market: Hyundai’s ix35 fuel cell, the Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. There are more hydrogen-powered cars and vans on the way, with brand such as BMW, Land Rover and Vauxhall, all planning models in the next five years. So why are people not buying into hydrogen cars?
Hydrogen cars offer some advantages over electric vehicles. Filling up the car is very similar to filling up a petrol or diesel tank and it is just as quick-taking around 5 minutes for a full tank. This undoubtedly is an advantage over the long waiting times charging an electric vehicle.
However, accessibility to hydrogen infrastructure is low, with only 11 hydrogen stations open in the UK and 45 in the US. This is clearly significantly less than the amount of petrol stations and charging stations across the two countries which means not having a filling station nearby, is impractical for many people.
An argument that is commonly used against hydrogen cars is that they are less efficient than EVs. Hydrogen does not occur naturally and therefore must be extracted to then be compressed in fuel tanks. It is then mixed with oxygen to create electricity to power the vehicle. The energy lost within this process is a lot more than electric vehicles. Within electric vehicles, electricity comes straight from the battery pack.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles are not expected to replace EVs but just to complement pure electric power as it is the cleanest fuel possible. Lithium-ion battery production produces several tons of CO2 emissions through mining. Even though the emissions do not come through the exhaust of the vehicle, they still contribute to CO2 emissions.
Hydrogen fuel is something that cannot be ignored, it is regarded as one of the potential alternatives for fueling HGV’s, which must charge through the power grid, and many consumer vehicles. If adoption of hydrogen is to be fully accepted, filling stations must be more widely accessible, and the whole energy sector would have to incorporate hydrogen into the mux, from refueling cars to storing energy for homes.
However, even with infrastructure like this in place, hydrogen vehicles are still considerably more expensive than other vehicles. The Toyota Mirai retails at £54,000 but as technology improves and becomes more mainstream, prices should start to fall.