Hello and welcome to another ChargeSmart blog! Today, we will be taking a long look at both Hydrogen fuel cell cars and EVs to find out which one is the best when it comes to low emission vehicles.
It seems that of late, Hydrogen is being talked about more and more as the new fuel of the future. Then again, the media called Hydrogen the fuel of the future in 2008 when the Honda FCX Clarity came out! This was only accelerated by the fact that former TopGear presenter James May recently purchased a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car. Ever since Tesla launched their Model S in 2014, the trend has been for mainstream manufacturers to create their own EVs to capture a share of that ever-growing market. While most of us have seen a Tesla, Nissan Leaf or some sort of electric car by now, most people haven’t seen a Hydrogen fuel cell car on the road. Most don’t even know how it works.
Put simply, these cars store liquid Hydrogen in a highly pressurized tank which is then used by fuel cells to convert this liquid into electric energy with water being the only emissions released. This sounds perfect right?! Well, there’s a few catches with that. Firstly, liquid Hydrogen is extremely flammable so when filling up, the tank needs to be decompressed and some sort of other science trickery needs to go on before you get a tank of Hydrogen a little while later. There’s also next to nothing in terms of infrastructure for Hydrogen fuelling which poses another problem. Some consider them too complex for the mass market and while Toyota continues to push their Mirai Hydrogen fuel cell car because they believe that it’s more environmentally friendly than battery EVs! Right, so that’s what Toyota thinks but what does the research say? The scientists in white lab coats say that Hydrogen fuel cell cars have a better range than their electric counterparts with the Nissan Leaf having a range of around 150 kilometres but that’s the lower end of the spectrum, as you go higher up in price the range also gets better with most Teslas being able to reach close to 500 kilometres on a full charge. On the other hand, the Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen fuel cell car has a range of 600 kilometres and only takes 5 minutes to fill, apparently! In terms of range then, it’s first blood to the Hydrogen fuel cell cars.
Above: The electric motor from a Hyundai Kona EV
We already know that EVs themselves don’t emit any CO2 but instead, it is a byproduct of the manufacturing process that goes into them. with all that taken into account, EVs produce around 120g/km of CO2 over the lifetime of the car. On the other hand, Toyota say that its Mirai produces a mere 120g/km of CO2 over its lifetime with the manufacturing taken into account. Issue is that turning the Hydrogen into a form that can be transported releases most of those gasses. A few years ago, Tesla’s outspoken chief Elon Musk called Hydrogen cells “fool cells”, he also stated that they were “mind-bogglingly stupid” and at the time, Toyota’s chairman agreed with his statement by saying that plugging in electric cars to charge is the way to go. On the other hand, he later said that two technologies would be needed to overtake fossil fuel powered vehicles! On the emissions front then, it’s pretty much level for both Hydrogen and EVs.
We already know that EVs are generally a little bit on the expensive side when it comes to upfront costs but in the long term, charging them up doesn’t cost that much at all compared to your traditional fuel station! Conversely, Hydrogen fuel cell cars are ridiculously expensive and fuelling them up costs quite a bit as well. The base price for a Hyundai Nexo in Britain is 66,000 Pounds, about 122,000 Kiwi dollars. Remember that you can have the highly acclaimed Jaguar I-Pace EV for just a little bit more than the Hyundai. Then there’s the fuelling costs, it takes between 50 to 75 pounds to fill up a Hydrogen car, that’s at least $100 NZD each time you fill up! EVs win the running costs argument then by a country mile.
Above: Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Fuel Cell car
Electric cars are being developed at an astonishing rate with more and more manufacturers hopping on to the EV train! On the other hand, Hydrogen fuel cell cars are few in number with only Toyota and Hyundai being the major players in that space. There’s also no infrastructure for Hydrogen fuelling in most countries around the world. This puts the whole concept of Hydrogen fuel cell cars at a significant disadvantage. EVs are already being sold by the thousands and people are already charging them up at home, their workplace and frankly anywhere they can find a fast charger. EVs still have a way to go before they become entirely mainstream but Hydrogen will need a lot more time before it can even catch up to EVs.