Are hydrogen cars a better option than electric vehicles?

Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVS) are on the rise across Europe and, according to the annual Global Electric Vehicle Outlook report, are selling more each week 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 energy?

Unlike Europe where there are only a handful of hydrogen cars for sale and around 228 filling 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 by 2035.

These pioneers are likely to reduce costs, increase volume and expand the supply chain.

Automakers, too, remain divided and, with the exception of Toyota and Hyundai, few are investing heavily in hydrogen. More recently however, BMW is renewing its interest and seeing a role for hydrogen cars alongside battery electric cars.

They plan to launch a small number of BMW iX5 Hydrogen cars globally from the end of this year for testing purposes at first.

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

The Stellantis Group has also undertaken limited production of hydrogen-powered commercial vans. But not everyone agrees; Mercedes has shelved plans to bring hydrogen fuel cell cars to market, as has Audi.

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

Simply put, a battery electric vehicle is powered by electricity stored in a battery and recharges by plugging into the power grid.

A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle generates its own electricity through a chemical reaction in its fuel cell. This electricity then powers the wheel motors and the only emission is water vapour. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are refueled at specific filling stations.

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

So why is hydrogen struggling to take hold? Hydrogen presents a number of challenges; from low efficiency to high costs.

Low efficiency due to high energy losses

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

By the time you transport the hydrogen to a filling station, more losses have occurred and even if you can bypass the transport stage, the storage cost is also high.

It is estimated that by the time you hit the road and the hydrogen is converted into electricity in the car, only around 38% of the original electricity is used.

Bad infrastructure

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

Therein lies the chicken and egg problem of hydrogen, who will buy hydrogen cars if the refueling stations don’t exist? And who will invest in service stations if cars are not available?

The initial investment risk of building hydrogen infrastructure is far too high for a single company. Solving this problem will therefore likely require planning and coordination involving governments, industry and investors.

Hydrogen is highly flammable

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

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

What hydrogen cars can you buy?

While new electric cars are launched regularly, there are only two hydrogen cars available for purchase in Europe; the Hyundai Nexo SUV and the Toyota Mirai.

Hydrogen cars are not only expensive to buy, but also expensive to refuel. The magnitude of their cost compared to charging an electric car also differs significantly from country to country.

What future 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 purchase and can take a considerable amount of time to recharge.

Additionally, electric cars may not generate any tailpipe emissions, but battery power sources, recycling of its components, and vehicle and battery manufacturing contribute to carbon emissions. Moreover, the extraction of many raw materials raises both ethical and environmental questions.

But the lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure, the challenges of transporting the fuel, and the fact that it takes far more energy to drive a hydrogen vehicle than a battery electric vehicle mean that for the moment, the future is battery-electric.

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