Below we’ve put together a list of the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell cars.
It could be useful for comparing HFC cars to electric cars, traditional cars, and so on.
Summary – Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Pros & Cons
- Hydrogen fuel waste is eco friendly
- HVs are fuel efficient
- Less maintenance
- 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 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
*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.
- Less Maintenance – 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.
– 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.
- Stanford University researchers in 2005 assessed the environmental effects of three different hydrogen sources: coal, natural gas, and water electrolysis powered by wind. They concluded 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 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. According to U.S. Department of Energy, 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.
- Potentially Dangerous – 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.
- 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.
- 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.
– 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 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 theoretic 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 still 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.