Why hydrogen cars will never replace electric cars

At the motor show in Paris, two French manufacturers presented their hydrogen car. Crédit Agricole has just announced that they have ordered 10,000 copies of Hopium Machina. But we explain to you why all this does not go in the direction of the fight against global warming.

Hopium Machina // Source: Frandroid

Hydrogen cars have grabbed headlines in recent weeks. In France alone, two startups are entering this market: Namx and Hopium. We saw the two hydrogen cars (Hopium Machina and Namx Huv) at the Paris Motor Show in 2022. Both promise very long ranges (between 800 and 1,000 km) and performance worthy of sports cars (0 to 100 km/h in less than 5 seconds ) ). However, there is a rather low probability that hydrogen cars will replace combustion or electric cars in the years to come.

The hydrogen car: a technological mirage?

On paper, the hydrogen car seems like an ideal solution. Moreover, it already exists, especially with the Toyota Mirai. Hydrogen actually makes it possible to extend the autonomy compared to electric cars, and to require less than five minutes to refuel. Like the electric car, it does not emit greenhouse gases during the driving phases.

But… the hydrogen car has a lot of flaws that will prevent it from replacing thermoelectric and electric cars in the coming years.

The low efficiency of hydrogen cars

The first problem with hydrogen is how it is produced. To be “pure”, hydrogen must be green, i.e. produced by electrolysis. The problem is that this means of production is very energy intensive, with many steps for its energy to move a vehicle to the end of the chain. The energy efficiency of an electric car is around 60-80% compared to 10-30% for its hydrogen counterpart.

In other words, for 1,000 watts of energy consumed on the grid, only 100 to 300 watts will actually be used to drive the hydrogen car, compared to 600 to 800 watts for an electric car. With a hydrogen car, we therefore lose energy, due to the different stages, from electrolysis to the fuel cell, which drives the electric motor. On an electric car, the “path” is much more direct between battery and engine.

The issue of energy demand

The problem with the efficiency of hydrogen cars is the greater demand for energy. Switching the entire global car fleet to electric cars requires adaptations (but not as much as can be seen with the French electricity grid). Doing the same with hydrogen cars is a more complicated challenge, as electricity consumption would be much higher.

Hydrogen presents other challenges, such asinstallation of a charging network, which is much more expensive as charging stations dedicated to electric cars. But also the price of green hydrogen, which is currently produced in very small quantities. The latter actually requires “low carbon” energy (wind, solar panels, nuclear) to be produced. And we obviously need this energy for other purposes around the world.

Hydrogen still has a future

Hydrogen is of course the energy carrier of the future. It will be used massively for heavy transport, for which lithium batteries are not yet suitable. It is e.g. the case of aviation, the maritime sector or land transport with very long trucks. But for all the sectors where the lithium battery is suitable, hydrogen will not be because it consumes too much energy, in addition to having a higher global warming potential than CO2 in case of leaks.

This is also the recommendation in the latest IPCC report: reserve hydrogen for heavy transport. One therefore wonders why the hydrogen car currently occupies so much space in the automotive industry. In addition to the future hydrogen-powered BMW X5, Crédit Agricole used the Paris Motor Show to place an order for 10,000 hydrogen cars with Hopium, the famous startup that plans to produce the machine by 2025.

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