Is the hydrogen car the future of the private vehicle?

It sells today all over Europe, more battery electric vehicles (BEVs) each week than in all of 2012. However, despite increasing demand, the supply of critical battery components such as lithium, nickel and cobalt may be limited. This may affect product availability. Isn’t it time to take a closer look at the issue of hydrogen cars?

Compared to Europe, where there are few hydrogen cars available and only 228 charging stations, Asia places more emphasis on hydrogen. The Japanese government aims to have 800,000 hydrogen cars on the road by 2030, while the Chinese government has set a goal of having one million by 2035.

It is likely that these early adopters will reduce costs, increase volume and expand the supply chain. Automakers are also still divided, and with the exception of Toyota and Hyundai, very few are investing significantly in hydrogen technology.

But recently BMW has expressed renewed interest in this area, saying it believes hydrogen cars have a place alongside battery electric vehicles. From the end of the year, the company intends to launch a limited series of BMW iX5 Hydrogen worldwide for initial testing.

Electric car or hydrogen car?

To be more clear, a battery electric car is powered by electricity stored in a battery that can be recharged by connecting the vehicle to the public power grid.
In an electric car with a hydrogen fuel cell, the chemical process that generates the vehicle’s own energy takes place in the fuel cell.

The only emission is water vapor, which is produced when this electricity is used to power the wheel motors. There are several gas stations that are equipped to charge hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The beauty of driving a hydrogen vehicle is that it can be refueled at the same time as a petrol or diesel vehicle, it can travel a comparable distance to other fuel types and it releases no harmful emissions.

So why is hydrogen having such a hard time gaining popularity? This is partly because hydrogen has many disadvantages, including low efficiency and high cost.

Low efficiency due to large energy losses

Electrolysis, which involves using electricity to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water, is the most environmentally friendly method of producing hydrogen. However, it uses a lot of energy and its efficiency is far below 100%.

Sectional view of the fuel cell in a hydrogen car (Toyota Mirai)

Transporting hydrogen to a refueling station leads to more losses, and although the transport phase can be completely avoided, the cost of hydrogen storage remains high.

According to forecasts, only about 38% of the electricity originally produced will be consumed when driving on the road, and the hydrogen is converted into energy in the car.

Poor infrastructure

The ability to refuel in minutes is one of the most attractive aspects of hydrogen cars. Nevertheless, even though hydrogen is one of the most common elements in the universe, finding a place to refuel a hydrogen vehicle can be difficult.

Who will buy these cars if there are no hydrogen filling stations? This is the crux of the chicken-and-egg puzzle that hydrogen faces. Who should invest in charging stations if there are no cars to invest in?

Given that a single company faces an unacceptable level of risk with the initial investment needed to build hydrogen infrastructure, solving this problem will likely require the planning and coordination of a collaborative effort involving representatives from industry, government and financial institutions.

Hydrogen is highly flammable.

Hydrogen is notoriously flammable, difficult to store and poses a potential threat to public health and safety in the event of an accident. But automakers like Toyota claim that fuel cell electric cars are as risk-free as traditional cars.

The Japanese automaker has invested a lot of time and resources in developing and testing hydrogen cars in harsh weather conditions and situations for several years.

Which hydrogen cars can you buy?

Hydrogen car: Toyota Mirai

The Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo SUV are the only two hydrogen-powered vehicles available for purchase in Europe, despite the constant introduction of new electric vehicles.

Not only are hydrogen cars expensive to purchase, they are also expensive to fuel.

Hydrogen car: Hyundai Nexo

In addition, the degree of their cost compared to the cost of charging an electric vehicle varies considerably from country to country.

What does the future hold for hydrogen cars and electric cars?

Whether there is a market for these two technologies has yet to be determined. BEVs are not without their drawbacks; not only are they expensive to purchase, but they also take a long time to recharge.

In addition, electric vehicles are not allowed to emit emissions through their tailpipes, but the production of the vehicles, as well as the batteries, as well as the recycling of the components that make up the vehicle, all contribute to the carbon dioxide emission. In addition, the extraction of a large part of the raw materials can cause both ethical and environmental problems.

The lack of infrastructure for refueling hydrogen cars, the difficulties associated with transporting fuel and the fact that it takes much more energy to move a hydrogen vehicle than a battery electric vehicle means that the future is battery electric vehicles.

To complete your reading

Frequently asked questions about hydrogen cars

Hydrogen cars are currently very expensive to produce. As a result, they still sell at particularly high prices. Thus, the first prices are around €65,000, with new products whose prices exceed €70,000.

Hydrogen is invoiced per kilo, whose price currently varies between €10 and €15. It should be noted that current hydrogen cars have a carrying capacity of approx. 6 kg. It will therefore cost between €60 and €90 to fill up completely.

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