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Hydrogen Vehicles – EV Killers?

Hydrogen Vehicles
19 July 2022

A new study from Juniper Research has found the number of hydrogen vehicles in service globally will exceed one million in 2027, from just over 60,000 in 2022 – a substantial growth of 15 times.


Reduced Customer Anxiety


The research identified hydrogen vehicles as an increasingly viable alternative to BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles). The potential for enhanced range and rapid refuelling compares favourably with BEVs, reducing customer anxieties around BEV ownership. These positives have led to significant investment by car manufacturers, including Hyundai, Toyota and BMW, and this will translate into an increasingly popular and available product over the next five years.


“Manufacturers will need to make hydrogen vehicles more affordable to become viable for fleets, but increased range and suitability for heavy goods transport will ultimately drive growth and economies of scale.”


– Olivia Williams
Research co-author, Juniper Research


What’s the Difference?


BEVs, or EVs as they are also called, rely on powering an electric motor via a large internal battery, as the name would suggest. The infrastructure for charging these has drastically upscaled in recent years – this is largely due to legislation under many world leaders that have set goals for completely phasing out the production and sale of new fossil fuel vehicles. The UK government announced late last year that they plan to bring the benchmark forward from 2040 to 2035, with only new hybrids distributed after 2030.

HFCVs (Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles) use a much smaller battery because they rely on a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to create their own power for the electric motor. Hydrogen gas is stored in a fuel tank, which is directed to a fuel cell stack for driving. This is focused on an electrolyte liquid or gel which allows protons to pass but not electrons, thus they are forced into an alternative path as an electrical current.

The exhaust waste from this process is just water - the electrons are protons are combined with oxygen at the end of the cell in a reaction that creates H2O. Therefore the pollution is nominal. The Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association recently produced a report that said that the carbon footprint is an order of magnitude better than electric vehicles at 2.7g of carbon dioxide per kilometre compared to 20.9g. This is mainly due to the lesser requirement for environmentally-intensive materials – so, what’s the catch?


Energy Efficiency


HFCVs are much less energy efficient than the EV equivalent. This is due to the power lost in the more complex process. For example, there is a loss to be counted for most changes of state in the chain.

In most cases hydrogen must be first produced from the power source using a process such as electrolysis which is about 75 per cent energy efficient, it’s not just found extracted or found in raw gas form easily, so it’s still mostly coming from power plants. Hydrogen is however a by-product of many industrial processes – if the effort is put into 

The hydrogen compression, chilling and transport is around 90 per cent efficient, followed by the process of in the car described above which is only around 60 per cent efficient. The electricity then moving the motor is around 95 per cent efficient. This results in only 38 per cent of the original electricity at the end use stage.

With electric cars, the national grid or closed loop supply carried the energy from source to car which is about 95 per cent efficient. Charging and discharging is about 90 per cent efficient, and again using that to power the motor is 95 per cent efficient. That’s about 80 per cent efficiency on the whole from source to driving.


Cost Comparison


Currently Hydrogen cars are also much more expensive to buy and run. The smaller quantity and take up as the government and large corporations focus on electric fleets, means the production is yet to be truly industrialise. The fuel is also expensive due to the clean up or creation process, making it almost twice as high in cost per mile as battery-powered vehicles charged at home. Demand increase is certain to help this greatly.

“We have a chicken and egg problem with hydrogen fuel cell technology,” explained Alex Rücker, Program Manager Hydrogen Fuel Cell at the BMW Group. “As long as the network of refueling stations for hydrogen-powered cars is so thin, the low demand from customers will not allow for profitable mass production of fuel cell vehicles. And as long as there are hardly any hydrogen cars on the roads, the operators will only hesitantly expand their refueling station network.”


Consumer Versus Commercial Hydrogen Vehicles


The research forecasts that the consumer market will lead the hydrogen vehicles space, with consumer vehicles accounting for over 60 per cent of hydrogen vehicles in service globally in 2027. The report identified the nascent development stage of many commercial vehicle types and the high average cost of hydrogen powered commercial vehicles, at over $70,000 globally in 2022, as key factors limiting adoption.

Shorter charging times, carbon neutrality potential, and a longer distance per fuel-up can be credited to this interest and investment. A full standard hydrogen tank can at present last around 300 miles despite the innefficient energy transfer. Battery cars can only match this with march larger, heavier batteries.

Research co-author Olivia Williams explained: “Manufacturers will need to make hydrogen vehicles more affordable to become viable for fleets, but increased range and suitability for heavy goods transport will ultimately drive growth and economies of scale.”


Infrastructure Concerns Still Prominent


Additionally, the report identified the low availability of fuelling infrastructure as a key challenge for wider adoption, but highlighted heavy industry investment as key to reducing this concern over the next 5 years. The report recommends that infrastructure vendors provide ‘green’ hydrogen, produced using renewable energy sources, to best take advantage of concerns around the environment driving the adoption of alternative fuels.


Picture: a hydrogen vehicle graphic. Image credit: Pixabay.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 19 July 2022


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