Below we’ve put together a list of the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell cars.
It could be useful for comparing hydrogen fuel cell cars to traditional gasoline cars, and other types of cars like electric cars, and hybrid cars.
Summary – Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Pros & Cons
We go into each of these pros and cons in more detail in the guide below:
Hydrogen fuel waste is eco friendly
HVs are fuel efficient
Good driving experience
Longer driving range and driving distance than EVs
Re-fuelling HVs is relatively quick
There’s an increasing number of stations being built over time
Hydrogen is abundant
Hydrogen can be renewable
Hydrogen can help build economic independence of some countries
Hydrogen fuel cells used in cars can be more efficient than internal combustion engines
Hydrogen fuel right now is not renewable
Right now, hydrogen fuel is not 100% eco friendly
Wheel to wheel eco advantage of HVs isn’t 100% certain
The amount of hydrogen fill up stations is currently limited
Hydrogen fill up stations are expensive to build and set up
Hydrogen is the most expensive fuel right now
Cost of cars and materials is expensive comparatively to other vehicle types
First buyers of HVs may lose out
There are some potential risks in safety with hydrogen fuel
Hydrogen storage can be complex and challenging
HVs aren’t good in all conditions and climates
There’s currently limited HV models and choice
Supply, infrastructure and technology is still years away from being perfect
Overall, we see that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles provide some benefits that other types of cars might now.
However, some of the major challenges might be (according to eia.gov):
– The high cost of fuel cells and the limited availability of hydrogen fueling stations have limited the number of hydrogen-fueled vehicles
– Production of hydrogen-fueled vehicles is limited because people won’t buy those vehicles if hydrogen refueling stations are not easily accessible, and companies won’t build refueling stations if they don’t have customers with hydrogen-fueled vehicles.
*Note – these are very general pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Each brand and model of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is obviously going to offer it’s own pros and cons, and each driver is going to have different requirements.
This is only going to continue to change as technology changes and society changes.
Different countries and cities also have different energy mixes, and policies and regulations in places which may change the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in different places.
So, pros and cons can be vehicle, driver and location specific.
What Is A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle?
In general, a hydrogen fuel cell car has a hydrogen tank
The hydrogen is extracted from another resource before it goes into the tank – usually from methane or natural gas.
The tank feeds a fuel cell, where the hydrogen and oxygen undergo an electrochemical reaction to produce electricity to power an electric motor.
The by product of this reaction is water and heat.
So, hydrogen fuel cells combine elements of conventional petrol cars (with the tank), and electric cars (with the electric energy and electric motor) – but a fuel cell vehicle is it’s own type of vehicle … it is not seen as either an electric car or a conventional car.
Hydrogen powered cars, are sometimes referred to as a Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) or Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)
Hydrogen fuel-cell cars are those vehicles that uses the natural element of hydrogen gas (Symbol: H) as their main fuel source.
The main component of a hydrogen powered car is its fuel cell.
Simply put, fuel cells convert stored hydrogen-gas into electricity, which powers an electric motor to propel the vehicle with virtually no tailpipe emissions.
HFCEV vehicles do carry pressurised hydrogen gas, but the fuel cells do not burn the hydrogen (compared to gasoline cars where the fuel is burned).
Instead, the energy comes from an electrochemical reaction.
Therefore, HRCEVs are electric vehicles technically – but they differ from a electric battery vehicle
In a hydrogen vehicle, hydrogen combines with oxygen from the air in the fuel cell, and energy is formed in this process that’s used to power a motor.
The only by-products from this reaction are heat and water
Hydrogen doesn’t exist by itself – You can’t simply pump it out of the ground
Before hydrogen can be used in a fuel cell, it needs to be extracted, either from water, through electrolysis, or by separating the hydrogen from the carbon in fossil fuels.
Examples of HFCEV’s (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) on the road right now are the the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity and Hyundai ix35
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Pros
Hydrogen Fuel Waste Is Environmentally Friendly
The only byproduct created from hydrogen cars is heat and water (i.e. steam/water vapor).
HVs Are Fuel Efficient (more than an electric vehicles and about the same as a gasoline car)
Overall fuel economy for hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles is the equivalent of about twice that of gasoline vehicles.
They convert up to 75 percent of the fuel into usable energy and can drive distances of up to 300 miles (480 kilometers) on a single tank.
Fuel cell vehicles are often equipped with regenerative brakes, which also contribute to their increased efficiency.
Lesser internal moving parts (when compared to combustion engines) means lower maintenance related costs.
They are also frequently lighter in weight (when compared to electric vehicles) for less wear and tear.
Good Driving Experience
Hydrogen powered vehicles are also quieter and smoother
Longer Driving Range/Distance Than Electric Vehicles
Since hydrogen powered vehicles are able to densely pack their energy storage, this translates into longer distances travelled before requiring a fill up.
While most fully electric vehicles can travel between 100-200 miles on a single charge, hydrogen vehicles can travel into the 300 mile or around 480 kilometer range on a single fill up.
Refuelling Hydrogen Cars Is Relatively Quick (quicker than electric cars)
The amount of time it takes to pump hydrogen into your tank is quite reasonable.
Where charging a fully electric vehicle may take several hours, filling up a hydrogen car can refill in only a few minutes, with enough fuel to travel several hundred miles.
There’s More Stations Being Built Over Time
Government initiatives and auto manufacturers are investing to make refuelling stations commonplace.
Hydrogen Is Abundant
Hydrogen is the most abundant element on planet earth
Hydrogen Can Be Renewable
Hydrogen can be derived from renewable energy (although it mostly isn’t at the moment).
Although this is still in need of a lot of development, methods for the future include biological water splitting (using sunlight and microorganisms); pyrolysis or gasification of biomass resources; and solar thermal water splitting.
Can Help Build Economic Independence Of A Country
Hydrogen is an alternative to building new power lines, while also reducing dependence on foreign oil.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Can Be More Efficient Than Internal Combustion Vehicles
Using a fuel cell to power an electrified powertrain including a battery and an electric motor is two to three times more efficient than using a combustion engine, although some of this benefit is related to the electrified powertrain (i.e. Including regenerative braking). This means that much greater fuel economy is available using hydrogen in a fuel cell, compared to that of a hydrogen combustion engine (wikipedia.org)
– automotivetechnologies.com, greengarageblog.org, fuelcellcars.com
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Cons
Hydrogen Fuel Right Now Is Not Renewable
The most common method is steam methane reforming from natural gas for regular hydrogen energy, but in general it’s coming from fossil fuels – which are finite.
Solar and wind energy in the future could help produce hydrogen fuel
Right Now, Hydrogen Fuel Is Not 100% Environmentally Friendly
Because it’s coming from fossil fuel sources, even though the end product is water vapor.
… the environmental effects of three different hydrogen sources were assessed: coal, natural gas, and water electrolysis powered by wind.
[the conclusion was that] we would lower greenhouse gas emissions more by driving gasoline/electric hybrid cars than by driving fuel-cell cars run on hydrogen from coal.
Hydrogen made using natural gas would fare a little bit better in terms of pollution output, while making it from wind power would be eco friendly
Wheel To Wheel Environmental Advantage Of Hydrogen Vehicles Isn’t 100% Certain
Some say hydrogen vehicles sourced from natural gas are lower emission than battery electric vehicles, and less than half of equivalent gasoline vehicle emissions.
But, others say emission reductions aren’t that great due to GHG emissions from the natural gas reformation process.
The entire process of electrolysis, transportation, pumping and fuel cell conversion leaves only about 20 to 25 percent of the original zero-carbon electricity to drive the motor.
About 95 percent of the hydrogen used today is produced by a process called steam reforming, a process that releases greenhouse gasses.
Making a kilogram of hydrogen from water through electrolysis is estimated to require 45 or more kilowatt-hours of electricity, depending on the technology.
That’s enough electricity to run an EV for a couple hundred miles.
The Amount Of Hydrogen Fill Up Stations Are Limited
Compared to fill up stations for gasoline or diesel.
There is currently lacking sufficient infrastructure to support hydrogen refuelling on a mass scale. … there are currently less than 50 publicly available hydrogen refuelling stations in the United States in 2018.
Hydrogen Stations Are Expensive
Each station costs about $2 million to $3 million.
Hydrogen Is The Most Expensive Fuel Right Now
Hydrogen fuel at the first retail stations is currently going for about $6 a gallon.
The carmakers and analysts believe the cost will come down to parity with gasoline in the next few years.
If and when that happens, the efficiency of a fuel cell car will give drivers a cost advantage.
But in the meantime, hydrogen is the most expensive automotive fuel on the market.
Cost Of Cars & Materials Is Expensive Comparatively
Platinum is one of the most commonly used catalysts for fuel cells.
At almost $1,000 an ounce, platinum can be a very expensive commodity.
This increased production material cost, along with other new technologies related to hydrogen powered vehicles, are often folded into the purchase price of the vehicle.
You’re generally paying more for a hydrogen vehicle at the moment compared to a gasoline or electric vehicle to either buy or lease.
First Buyers May Lose Out
Hydrogen vehicle technology could change a lot of the next 10-20 years as the vehicles are developed.
First buyers may face drastically reduced re-sale prices of their cars, and will rely on companies to keep their models up to to date with new technology.
Storing pressurised hydrogen onboard your vehicle can pose unique dangers.
One of the main concerns is that Hydrogen flames are nearly invisible.
In the event of a collision, this would be of great concern to first responders attempting to rescue passengers.
There’s also potential for explosions at hydrogen stations as well.
Hydrogen fuel is hazardous because of the low ignition energy and high combustion energy of hydrogen, and because it tends to leak easily from tanks. Explosions at hydrogen filling stations have been reported (wikipedia.org)
Hydrogen Storage Can Be Complex & Challenging
Storing hydrogen is a challenge because it requires high pressures, low temperatures, or chemical processes to be stored compactly.
For consumer passenger cars, overcoming this challenge is a bit difficult because they often have limited size and weight capacity for fuel storage.
The problems of using hydrogen fuel in cars arise from the fact that hydrogen is difficult to store in either a high pressure tank or a cryogenic tank … Alternative storage media such as within complex metal hydrides are in development [to address this] (wikipedia.org)
Hydrogen Cars Aren’t Good In All Conditions & Climates
For proper performance, hydrogen-powered cars have some temperature parameters.
In places where the temperature goes below the freezing point, hydrogen powered cars run the possibility of the water in the fuel cells freezing.
In places with high temperatures, fuel cell components run the risk of overheating.
Limited Vehicle Choice
There are not many hydrogen vehicle brands and models to choose from right now.
Supply, Infrastructure and Technology Perfection & Development Is Still Years Away
It’s going to take many years in order to perfect these cells’ conversion solutions, since developing newer fuel cell technologies are still in the transition period.
It will also take years to increase supply and infrastructure needs.
On supply, one potential issue at refuelling stations is:
Hydrogen fuelling stations generally receive deliveries of hydrogen by truck from hydrogen suppliers. An interruption at a hydrogen supply facility can shut down multiple hydrogen fuelling stations (wikipedia.org)
– automotivetechnologies.com, fuelcellcars.com, greengarageblog.org, thoughtco.com
Other Notes On Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars
Electric vehicles (using batteries with stored electricity instead of hydrogen fuel cells to power an electric motor) probably have more popularity and growth than hydrogen fuel cell cars forecasted for the future
Fuel cell vehicles such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles potentially have a future because they have potential to be fully environmentally friendly and close to zero emissions (when the hydrogen is derived from renewable green sources instead of fossil fuels), but they are years behind hybrid and battery electric infrastructure in terms of development
The problem with hydrogen fuel cell cars right now is that large scale manufacturing of hydrogen extracts the gas from methane, and it generates carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Both of these problems have theoretical fixes, but they need a significant volume of potential customers to be implemented, along with government subsidies and support.
So, the future of hydrogen fuel cell cars depends on these subsidies and support by government, development by companies, and customers
– autoevolution.com, fuelcellcars.com
The two main hurdles for hydrogen fuel cell cars are:
… the high cost of producing fuel cells;
and, the lack of a hydrogen refueling network.
Like the development of electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will get more advanced over time, with the technology getting cheaper as the range from fill-ups increases.
This will make fuel cell cars more appealing to more people, and will help them become more widespread.
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