Not long ago, we saw trends sloping upwards for hydrogen-powered vehicles. Everyone was immensely excited to witness the new era in the automobile sector. After the exceptional success of the EVs, we were hoping to welcome the future with the cylinders of hydrogen gas. It was all going great. After all, hydrogen cars don’t cough up any smoke. (the exhaust is just H2O, wow!) It also seemed to have solved the problem of charging time in EVs. Also, a hydrogen-fuelled car’s carbon footprint is far lesser than its electric counterpart, standing at 2.7g of CO2 per km. So, what’s wrong?
There’s a quip grabbing attention these days, “Hydrogen cars are the FUTURE of automotive — and always will be.” (Ha! I hope you get it) Even though hydrogen-powered vehicles are eco-friendly to a great extent, the major problem is efficiency. The energy produced in the power plant loses a lot to end up as low as 38 percent while reaching the vehicle’s transmission. Besides, there are other factors also that limit the use of hydrogen in automobiles anytime soon. Let’s first understand the science behind it! (*Electronic upbeat music in the background*)
In the process, the first need is to generate electricity in a power plant, preferably from a renewable source. Then, this electric energy produces hydrogen. (How? Let me tell you) Hydrogen is present abundantly in the atmosphere, and you can also extract it from water with a process called electrolysis. However, the arrangement used primarily is “steam-methane reforming” that brings out hydrogen by mixing high pressure and temperature steam with natural gas. (Isn’t natural gas a fossil fuel?) Even with electrolysis, the hydrogen generation process is responsible for a total loss of 25% energy. Then, its compression, transportation, and conversion back to electricity inside the vehicle account for the remaining 37% energy loss. It seems OK to replace IC Engines instantly in cars with Hydrogen Fuel Cells but stands nowhere near the efficiency of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) which, is around 80%.
The hydrogen fuel cell has its benefits including, a faster filling rate and a higher mileage giving it a boost over its battery counterpart. But, the price tag of refueling and the security issues associated with storage smash all the dreams to smithereens. In the US, filling a car’s hydrogen tank can cost a whopping $80. Due to these factors, people are reluctant to buy a hydrogen-powered vehicle. When people aren’t interested, why would manufacturers be so? As a result, only three options are being put up for sale: Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Nexo, and Honda Clarity. To make the situation worse, either of them comes costing an arm and a leg.
The Californian government had announced a package for installing fifty hydrogen filling stations in the state ten years ago, allocating $2 million for each. In catching a glimpse, the hydrogen filling stations appear to be similar to the gasoline ones. But, they are no joke as the stored gas scoots into cars at a pressure of 10,000 psi. With a lilliputian number of refueling stations, hydrogen doesn’t exhilarate us. And, building them isn’t a priority either, as the governments across the globe are busy aiding mass-produce EV charging stations.
There’s not a lot wrong with hydrogen and, appropriate utilization of technology can help overcome the stumbling blocks. Still, the EV industry appears to have won the game and lead a revolution by gaining immense acceptance worldwide. With every brand, small or large, focusing solely on advancing EVs except for some “hydrogen-advocates” like Toyota, the hydrogen fuel cell market is not expected to make any sense on land transport anytime soon. Airplanes and ships? Maybe.