At a crossroads: Do hydrogen cars offer a better future than electric cars?

At a crossroads: Do hydrogen cars offer a better future than electric cars?

Sales of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVS) are growing across Europe, and according to the annual Global Electric Vehicle Forecast, more are being sold every week now than in all of 2012.

But despite the growing popularity, shortages of key battery components, including lithium, nickel and cobalt, could threaten supply. So, is it time to focus on hydrogen-based energy?

Unlike Europe where there are only a few hydrogen cars for sale and around 228 gas stations, Asia is betting on hydrogen.

The Japanese government plans to have 800,000 hydrogen vehicles on the roads by 2030 while China has set an ambitious target of 1 million vehicles by 2035.

These early movers are likely to reduce costs, increase volume, and develop the supply chain.

Automakers remain divided, too, and with the exception of Toyota and Hyundai, few are investing heavily in hydrogen. Recently, BMW is renewing its interest and is seeing a role for hydrogen-powered cars to match battery electric vehicles.

They plan to launch a small number of BMW iX5 Hydrogens around the world from the end of this year for initial testing purposes.

“As a versatile energy source, hydrogen plays a key role on the path to climate neutrality,” said Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG.

The Stellantis Group has also made limited production of commercial hydrogen vehicles. But not everyone agrees on that. Mercedes has discontinued plans to bring hydrogen fuel cell cars to the market, as has Audi.

What is the difference between an electric car and a hydrogen car?

Simply put, a battery-powered electric vehicle is powered by electricity stored in a battery and recharged by connecting it to the power grid.

A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle produces its own electricity through a chemical reaction in its fuel cell assembly. This electricity then powers the wheel motors and the only emission is water vapor. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are refueled at designated service stations.

The beauty of a hydrogen car is that you can refill it in the time it takes to fill up a petrol or diesel car, achieving a similar range and all this while producing zero emissions.

So why does hydrogen struggle to catch up? Hydrogen comes with a number of challenges; From low efficiency to high costs.

Low efficiency due to high energy losses

The cleanest way to produce hydrogen is electrolysis, which is the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. But it is energy-intensive and its efficiency is well below 100 percent.

By the time you transport the hydrogen to a filling station, more loss occurs, and even if you manage to get past the transfer phase, the cost of storage is also high.

Estimated the time you are on the road and the hydrogen is converted into electricity in the car, only about 38 percent of the original electricity is used.

poor infrastructure

The main selling point of hydrogen cars is that they can refuel in minutes, but despite being the most abundant elements in the universe, finding a place to refuel a hydrogen car is very difficult.

Here’s the chicken and egg problem with hydrogen, who would buy hydrogen cars if gas stations weren’t around? And who would invest in gas stations if cars were not available?

The initial investment risk of building hydrogen infrastructure is too high for a single company, so tackling this issue will likely require planning and coordination that brings together governments, industry and investors.

Hydrogen is flammable

Hydrogen is flammable, difficult to store, and presents a safety hazard in the event of an accident. However, automakers such as Toyota insist that fuel cell electric vehicles are as safe as conventional cars.

The Japanese automaker has spent many years testing hydrogen-powered cars in harsh conditions and temperatures to ensure they can be used safely and reliably.

What hydrogen cars can you buy?

While new electric vehicles are launched regularly, only two hydrogen-powered vehicles are available for purchase in Europe; And Hyundai Nexo SUV and Toyota Mirai.

Hydrogen cars are also not very expensive to buy but they are also expensive to refuel. The amount of cost compared to recharging an electric car varies greatly between countries as well.

What does the future hold for hydrogen and electric cars?

The jury is still out on whether there is a place for both technologies.

BEVs are not without problems; They are expensive to buy and can take a long time to recharge.

Additionally, electric vehicles may not generate any exhaust pipe emissions but battery power sources, component recycling, and vehicle and battery manufacturing contribute to carbon emissions. In addition, the mining of many raw materials raises ethical and environmental issues.

But the lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure, the challenges with fuel transportation and the fact that you need more energy to move a hydrogen powered vehicle than a battery electric vehicle at the moment, the future is battery electric.

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