It is debatable whether hydrogen EVs degrade battery-electric vehicles into future cars, but this is an interesting technology with a wide range of capabilities
In the race for the gradual elimination of fossil-fuel cars, car manufacturers and governments are constantly evaluating alternative sources of energy. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – or EVs that have no power source other than the battery – are the cars of the future. But hydrogen fuel cells offer a similar green solution with zero harmful emissions. In fact, some Indian states have included hydrogen development in their EV policies, and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has flagged off a pilot project to study FCEVs.
(Supercapacitors and Batteries -images by -PluginIndia)
What is a fuel cell vehicle?
The Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) is an EV powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen, stored in a sealed tank, is the ‘fuel’ used to generate energy by the reaction between hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen in the air. The energy released is stored in a lower capacity battery than the EV battery and the by-product is pure water.
What are the advantages of FCEVs over EVs?
FCEVs solve a major problem for EVs: you can refuel them in minutes. EVs take longer to juice up, even if you charge at the highest possible charge on a public speed charger.
For example, charging an EV at a public charging station can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, but hydrogen filling takes roughly the same amount of time as a Petrol or CNG stop – approximately 3 minutes.
Toyota Mirai Time for charging
About 3 minutes (approx, 70MPa pressure supplied) / Range 646 km (EPA estimate) /Dissolve the weight 1,917 kg
Tesla Model S Time for charging
About 30 minutes (250kW DC supercharger), Range 651 km (EPA estimate) / Dissolve the weight 2,069 kg
With the exception of refuelling time, FCEVs can be made lighter than electric cars and offer the same range of outputs. A Mirai requires only 1.24kWh battery pack and 5.6kg of hydrogen to achieve the same range as the S model. Tesla has a much larger 100kWh battery pack that weighs ten times more than the Mirai.
Images by semanticscholar.org
Do hydrogen powered cars cause less pollution than electric cars?
On its own, FCEV does not produce any emissions other than water, which can be evaporated or stored separately. But to really understand the carbon footprint of a car, you should also look at how alternative fuels like hydrogen are produced / sourced.
There are three types of hydrogen gases you can use to fuel the FCEV: grey, blue and green.
Grey hydrogen is made from natural gas and produces carbon dioxide emissions. It forms the vast majority (about 95 percent) of the globally produced H2 gas. Blue hydrogen is also produced using renewable resources in the process of releasing less carbon dioxide into the environment. Pure green hydrogen or hydrogen is made of renewable sources and does not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In India, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari referred to sewage as one of the potential sources of hydrogen. Sewage hydrogen can potentially provide an incentive to expand the sewage network and promote sewage treatment across the country.
Hydrogen is usually produced in small quantities by sewage treatment, so it is not possible to overtake grey hydrogen at any time in India. Similarly, most of the power generation in the country comes from coal or natural gas turbines.
According to reports, the lifetime carbon footprint of BEVs is comparable to that of FCEVs, approximately 120 g per km. Nevertheless, in the Indian context, studies have shown that FCEVs and BEVs produce lower lifetime emissions than ICE (petrol and diesel) vehicles.
Why are hydrogen fuel cell cars still not popular?
In countries that offer FCEVs, they occupy only a small percentage of total vehicle sales. Data from SNE research shows that by 2021 there will be less than 20,000 FCEVs sold globally. By comparison, worldwide BEV sales are about half a billion vehicles.
There are multiple reasons for this disparity, primarily in terms of fuel availability, purchase costs and refuelling costs. Public EV charging stations have grown worldwide in the past few years, but hydrogen filling stations are rare even in countries with high EV adoption rates. For example, the UK will have about 26,000 public EV charging stations (4,551 rapid chargers) by 2021, but hydrogen filling stations are currently 14.
There are only two models currently in production – the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo. In the US, the Mirai retails between 38 lakh and 50 lakh, while the Nexo SUV starts at around Rs 45 lakh. By comparison, the choice of EVs sits in triple digits and offers plenty of value for a lower price. The Tesla Model 3 gives you the right speed sedan for Rs 31 lakh.
The price gap in India is likely to be more widespread, where the entry-level Tigor EV is available for Rs 12 lakh (ex-showroom). Since the Mirai is manufactured exclusively in Japan, its cost as a complete production unit (CBU) can exceed Rs 60 lakh – five times the cost of the Tata Electric sedan. Even a relatively premium EV like the Hyundai Kona is priced at Rs 23.98 lakh (ex-showroom).
For refuelling, hydrogen is priced at Rs 1,000 to 1,500 per kg in countries such as the UK and the US. Therefore, it costs between Rs 5,600 and Rs 8,400 to fill a Mirai 5.6 kg tank. It is still more expensive than filling petrol or diesel in the same range per tank in a comparable model. Of course, H2 prices will decrease as its supply improves to meet rising demand. For example, the Norwegian hydrogen energy company aims to reduce the cost of green hydrogen production by just Rs 100 per kg by 2025.
Hydrogen storage is expensive and its transport adds carbon dioxide to the environment. For any country, setting up, running and extending a hydrogen fuel network can be expensive. On the other hand, a vast and far-reaching electric grid for charging BEVs already exists.
Lack of market choice, high cost and scarce infrastructure are the primary reasons for low FCVE adoption rates worldwide. Despite these challenges, hydrogen sales have almost doubled from 2020 to 2021.
Who gives FCEVs other than Toyota?
With the exception of Toyota, only one mainstream car manufacturer offers a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle – Hyundai. Hyundai Nexo SUV is the main FCEV withinside the worldwide market. It makes 161 PS and 394 Nm and delivers up to 611km in a tank of hydrogen. These are two disadvantages of the two brands that do not have 100 percent commitment to the BEV route for green mobilityMAdditionally, BMW has developed a hydrogen powertrain that is being tested on the iX5 hydrogen SUV. The iX5, basically the X5 SUV, has been replaced with a fuel cell electric drivetrain, currently undergoing winter testing in Sweden.
Does Tesla offer a hydrogen vehicle?
American EV manufacturers do not yet offer any hydrogen vehicles. Its CEO does not favour gas fuel, as evidenced by the following tweet:
“Fuel cells should be called fool sells! Such a silly choice for cars. Not great even for a rocket upper stage imo, but at least not absurd.”-Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
Are hydrogen FCEVs safer than regular EVs?
Hydrogen is a flammable gas that accumulates in the FCEV’s fuel tank at high pressure. Even so, the reaction inside the fuel cell does not burn any hydrogen, but instead uses the steady flow of low pressure gas to create electricity. According to Hyundai, the safety of the hydrogen car is comparable to that of modern CNG vehicles. The risk of a fire in an accident is also far away, as any leakage will evaporate the gas immediately and exit the atmosphere.
It is safe to say that FCEVs are unlikely to be a mainstream alternative to combustion engines such as EVs at any time. They will definitely add some variety to the green car market and their arrival will help grow the H2 infrastructure in the country. It remains to be seen how the government chooses to promote or promote these vehicles after the green light. Currently, we have to wait until the conclusion of the pilot study to know whether or not hydrogen cars are heading to India.