Electric vehicles might be popular, but are hydrogen-powered cars really the future?

Electric vehicles might be popular, but are hydrogen-powered cars really the future?

Even if you don’t already own an electric vehicle (EV), there’s a good chance you’ve seen one somewhere out on the roads. According to Zapmap, the EV charging planner, over 760,000 fully electric cars were on the UK’s roads by the end of April 2023.

The same source states there were roughly 265,000 battery-electric cars registered in 2022, a 40% rise from 2021.

The benefits of fully electric vehicles are myriad:

  • They’re better for the environment
  • They typically have lower running costs
  • You could avoid congestion charges.

Yet despite the recent popularity of EVs, there is another form of clean and renewable energy that can power vehicles: hydrogen.

Continue reading to learn about some hydrogen-powered vehicles and their benefits to your driving experience and the world around you.

Instead of using electricity, a fuel cell electric vehicle would use hydrogen for power

As the name suggests, a hydrogen-powered vehicle, sometimes referred to as a “fuel cell electric vehicle” (FCEV), is a vehicle that uses hydrogen to generate power.

They would still essentially be EVs, using a similar electric motor system to drive. However, while today’s current EV stores power generated by an external source and stored in a battery, an FCEV collects and stores hydrogen from a fuelling station.

The gas then generates electricity and diverts it to the electric motor, powering the car.

If, after reading this, you’re excited to get a hydrogen-powered car, it’s worth noting that there aren’t many in existence currently. As of 2021, only two FCEVs were publicly available: the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo.

Hydrogen power tends to be far more energy-efficient than its traditional counterparts

Perhaps the most exciting benefit of hydrogen-powered vehicles is their emissions. Since hydrogen combines with oxygen when it’s burned, water is the only emission from it.

This means that, no matter how much you drive a hydrogen-powered car, the only thing coming from your exhaust will be drips of water. Also, hydrogen is highly abundant – in fact, it’s the most plentiful element in the universe, and can be produced through electrolysis, the process of splitting water.

Hydrogen is also a fantastic energy carrier – even a small amount of energy can release a lot to drive the vehicle. While this does mean the gas is highly explosive (the Hindenburg airship explosion in 1937 may come to mind), modern hydrogen fuel tanks are typically safer these days, surrounded by a carbon fibre shell.

Aside from vehicles, hydrogen power could have a bright future thanks to this energy efficiency, even when compared to traditional energy sources. TWI states that a conventional combustion power plant generates electricity at 33% to 35% efficiency. Meanwhile, a hydrogen plant generates electricity at 65% efficiency.

The same source states that similar energy efficiency can be witnessed in cars – hydrogen fuel cells use 40% to 60% of the fuel’s energy while offering a 50% reduction in fuel consumption.

If you also enjoy some adrenaline when you drive and like a fast car, you may want to look at hydrogen vehicles, as they generally have greater speed and range capabilities than EVs. According to Futurism, the highest-performing hydrogen-powered vehicle, the aptly named “H2 speed”, can reach 0 to 62 miles per hour in 3.4 seconds.

While this may not yet be comparable to the likes of battery-powered EVs such as the Aspark Owl, which did it in 1.7 seconds, or the Rimac Nevera, which managed it in 1.95, hydrogen-powered cars are still somewhat in their infancy. With EVs currently generating the most attention, progress in hydrogen-powered tech could be slow.

While they are energy-efficient, hydrogen cars are typically more specialist vehicles

One of the significant reasons EVs have overtaken hydrogen-powered cars in the spotlight is due to the price of hydrogen storage and production. You can charge an EV anywhere so long as it can access the national grid.

Meanwhile, a hydrogen-powered vehicle must find a specific hydrogen fuel station. Not only could they be rare and difficult to find, but they’re also expensive – the US Department of Energy states that a fuelling station would cost roughly $1.9 million to build.

Statista even reports that, as of 2021, there were only 15 public hydrogen fuelling stations in the UK.

There are also two different forms of hydrogen: green and blue. Companies produce green hydrogen by electrolysis, entirely powered by renewable energy.

Blue hydrogen, on the other hand, is produced using fossil fuels, so it isn’t as good for the environment as you may have initially thought.

As such, hydrogen-powered vehicles tend to be unique and specialist cars. Still, it’s hard to deny they’re a testament to the feats of modern engineering and make you wonder how vehicles could evolve in the not-so-distant future.

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