The Battle Between Hydrogen-Powered Cars And Battery EVs

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Hydrogen Powered Vs EV Powered Cars
Modern electric car parked next to a home and charging from a charging station on sunset. Mindful of the planet's resources. AI Generative

While the battery electric vehicle (BEV) has been stealing most of the attention in the world of clean transportation, one lesser-known alternative is quickly gaining traction – the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). The FCEV is powered by green hydrogen, a rapidly growing industry in both the US and globally. And while some have critiqued the technology, others believe that hydrogen will be the fuel of the future, offering drivers a similar experience to traditional vehicles with no carbon emissions. 

Battery Versus Hydrogen-Powered 

Battery-powered BEVs are powered by an electric motor, which uses electricity derived from a lithium-ion battery. These batteries require lithium, mined from underground deposits, to run, much in the same way as many other electronic devices, such as phones and laptops. But just like with these devices, the batteries must be regularly charged for around 30 minutes or longer. 

In comparison, FCEVs are powered by hydrogen – with green hydrogen being the cleanest option. They do not release any emissions, just water vapor and air, making them much greener than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to run. Further, they can be fueled much like traditional ICE cars, using a pump at a gas station to top off the hydrogen level. 

Support for FCEVs is increasing in line with investment into green hydrogen operations, which remain much more expensive than fossil fuel-derived hydrogen at present. The sector is attracting interest as it does not rely on the mining of the finite lithium resource to power the vehicle, meaning it can avoid supply chain constraints and could be more environmentally friendly. 

The US Context

In the US, President Biden wants half of all U.S.-sold vehicles to run on electricity by 2030. While BEVs are racing ahead at present, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will provide funding for all clean vehicle options, encouraging producers to be innovative and accelerate their manufacturing efforts. 

In addition, it is important to diversify the industry to reduce reliance on any single technology, as manufacturers might face difficulties in developing enough EVs for the growing consumer market. Moreover, the green hydrogen industry is expected to grow at a rapid rate in response not only to consumer vehicle demand but also thanks to its potential use in industry and public transport. Hydrogen fuel could help many manufacturers decarbonize as they shift away from fossil fuels in factories. 

While the drawback of green hydrogen is its expensive production costs, which need to decrease from $840 per kilowatt at present to $420 per kilowatt to make it a viable option, costs are expected to improve immensely with significant funds being pumped into research and development worldwide. 

But there are several benefits to using hydrogen including a longer driving range and shorter fueling time. The average FCEV runs for around 300 miles and can be refueled in 10 minutes, compared to the average BEV range of 200 miles and 45 minutes of fueling. 

Criticism Over Hydrogen Vehicles 

But FCEVs have faced staunch criticism, particularly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, from Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In 2019, Musk called FCEVs “mind-bogglingly stupid,” referred to the technology as “fool cells,” and a “load of rubbish,” and told Tesla shareholders at an annual meeting several years ago that “success is simply not possible.” 

In 2021, he echoed this sentiment, “It’s just very difficult … to make hydrogen and store it and use it in a car… The best-case hydrogen fuel cell doesn’t win against the current case batteries, so then, obviously … it doesn’t make sense.” He also said, “That will become apparent in the next few years. There’s … no reason for us to have this debate, I’ve said … my piece on this, it will be super obvious as time goes by, I don’t know what more to say.” 

FCEVs Are Catching Up Thanks To Major Automakers 

Yet, huge progress has been made on FCEVs in recent years, showing it may not be all hot air. China is rapidly growing its hydrogen EV market, with the country’s largest fuel cell producer, Sinofuelcell, expecting to double its sales this year. It predicts at least 2,500 of its hydrogen fuel cells will make it to China’s roads in 2023. Meanwhile, major automakers, such as Toyota and Hyundai have long supported FCEV technology. Toyota expects its new Crown sedan to boost fuel cell car sales to 8,000 this fiscal year, from 3,440 last year. Most of these sales will be aimed at the Asian market, although the auto giant hopes to sell its FCEVs in the US soon.

Meanwhile, Hyundai is introducing its XCIENT Fuel Cell tractor to the US market. Mark Freymueller, Senior Vice President and Head of Commercial Vehicle Business Innovation at Hyundai Motor stated, “For years, we have been initiating hydrogen value chains in various regions. Together with our partners, we are making hydrogen mobility a viable solution for our customers. We go beyond the truck itself to include areas such as hydrogen refueling and truck maintenance.” Freymueller added, “Here in the U.S., we plan to do the same, since each case needs its tailor-made service approach, especially during the transition phase from traditional to hydrogen. We plan to provide the best hydrogen value chain scenario for each and every customer.” 

While Asia is leading in FCEV technology and consumer uptake, the US is not far behind, with climate initiatives such as the IRA helping to encourage greater innovation and diversity in clean transport. Higher levels of funding in the green hydrogen industry will support the shift away from fossil fuels to clean alternatives in both industry and transportation. And as major automakers develop their US market profile, it is only a matter of time before the hydrogen FCEV grows to compete with the better-known BEV.

1 COMMENT

  1. The electric vehicle as no produced is stupid. You cannot take a trip across country and enjoy it. It takes forever to recharge the battery compared to a 5-10 minutes it take to fill a gas tank. Fuel cells show promise…so keep on trying alternative to this backward lithium battery with all it expensive minerals to make it work and all coming from China.

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