Electric power or Hydrogen fuel cells: which will be the fuel source of the future – Part 1
The first question most car drivers would have upon reading that headline would be: what is a Hydrogen fuel cell? By now, most people have heard of the new range of vehicles powered by electric batteries making their way into the car dealerships. And in the coming years, as all the major players in the automobile industry get involved, the understanding of electrically powered cars will only grow. So what is the difference between electrically powered cars and Hydrogen-powered cars, and what is a Hydrogen fuel cell?
The HFC (Hydrogen fuel cell) vehicle is powered by technology that could be thought of as revolutionary. By utilising the two elements oxygen and Hydrogen and creating a reaction inside a battery in the vehicle, the necessary energy to power the car is achieved. The only emissions from these cars is water, a by-product of the process by which the energy required to run the vehicle is produced. These vehicles can travel for over three hundred kilometres without the need for refuelling. The fuel that will be added in this process is Hydrogen.
An electric car, on the other hand, such as the Honda e, Tesla Model 3 or a Polestar, is powered entirely by cells in the cars. Like your mobile phone or laptop, these cells only hold their charge for a certain amount of usage. The batteries in EVs (Electric vehicles) are larger than these household gadgets, so naturally, the charge range is greater, as is the time it takes to recharge the battery once it is spent.
On average, it can take between eight and twelve hours to refuel an EV (most need charging after 340 kilometres on average, and charging points can be few and far between, although they are growing in number. Fast charging points are also being developed, but they can only reduce charging times to under an hour.
As most drivers are used to spending no more than five minutes in a petrol station filling up their vehicles, this lengthy refuelling period is seen as somewhat off-putting. With an HFC vehicle, the process is far more convenient; it would be a very comparable experience to filling up your engine with your current fuel, except, of course, you would be adding Hydrogen instead of petrol or diesel.
That, in a nutshell, would be the main differences between these two types of vehicles and below, we will try to look a bit closer at these HFC cars and if they are a viable alternative.
Why is Hydrogen relatively unknown to the driving public?
Electric vehicles are generally recognised as the alternative to our current crop of polluting vehicles powered by diesel/petrol amongst the car-buying populace. One might say that the media’s emphasis on battery-powered vehicles is the main reason for the lack of awareness about Hydrogen Fuel Cell powered vehicles.
The positives of HFC’s over Ev’s are the relative lightness of the cells into which you place the Hydrogen as opposed to the large cell need to power an Electric vehicle. The use of this technology in buses and coaches around a metropolitan area would make sense as they can be charged almost immediately. Also, vehicle fleets that need to be in constant use would be better suited to this technology.
Benefits and disadvantages of Hydrogen fuel cells and electric vehicles
It has been established that four main factors affect a buyer’s choice in a new car
- The prestige of a brand
- Its performance relative to similar brands
- Ease of refuelling/charging
- Cost of vehicle
If we compare these factors between the two types of vehicle, it will go some way to explain the relative profiles of both types of cars in the automobile market.
Currently, the HFC model wins only in the category of distance driven between refuelling. In all the other areas, Electric cars are in pole position. And this is currently reflected in the prominence of HFC’S in the marketplace.
So how can Hydrogen Fuel Vehicles be made more attractive to purchasers?
The convenience of filling up an HFC is very like topping up a standard vehicle time-wise. Currently, few petrol stations are adapted to provide Hydrogen straight to a vehicle. The cost of adapting petrol forecourts to deliver Hydrogen safely would add considerable costs to the existing infrastructure for electric cars. Although at the current moment, electric charging points need to become more readily available.
Another factor in favour of EV’s is the fact that charging stations can be installed on a car owner’s driveway. This is something that will never be possible with HFC’s. Another factor is that the emissions of the Hydrogen Cell vehicle over its life cycle are higher than an electric car, as to produce the necessary Hydrogen, there is a need to use fossil fuels in the production process.
The main drawback to the mass production of these HFC’s is the associated cost that the mass upgrading of the necessary infrastructure would entail. It is also a very costly process to manufacture a hydrogen cell presently. This, coupled with an uncertainty of the safest way to make and safely transport this hydrogen gas, makes the future of this technology uncertain at the present moment. Although improving technology may see things change in this regard.
In part two, we will continue evaluating the relative merits of Hydrogen fuel cells and electric vehicles.