Why are we still waiting for the so-called ‘fuel of the future’?
Although it may feel like we’re in the midst of an electric revolution in the motoring industry, sceptics argue that the EV days are numbered.
Requiring massive amounts of lithium mined from our Earth, uneconomically transported around the world to then later be largely disposed of in the ground is not all that environmentally friendly, many would suggest. Some of these strong voices that make up a vocal minority will be bonafide petrolheads that simply don’t want to see change. Others, however, are simply strong believers in hydrogen fuel cell technology as the true future of motoring.
Like EVs, hydrogen cars use electricity to move as the wheels are turned by electric motors. Unlike electric vehicles, hydrogen-powered vehicles aren’t plugged in to charge but rather filled up like regular petrol or diesel cars. The difference being that instead of dirty, non-renewable, finite fossil fuels, liquid hydrogen is poured into the tank.
Once inside the car, it generates electricity in the fuel cell where hydrogen and oxygen are combined to cause a reaction. This chemical reaction, through the magic of science, produces electricity which is then used to power the car’s motors. Water is also produced as a byproduct and is released out of the exhaust in the form of water vapour.
Furthermore, FCVs (fuel cell vehicles) are lighter than EVs as they don’t require large battery packs and because of this weight difference, they’re more energy-efficient. They produce no emissions, like an EV, and also hydrogen is not exactly a rare element so we’re not going to run out as you can literally extract it from water (H2O). And perhaps most significantly, you don’t have to wait for them to charge, you fill up and go like in a regular combustion car so no range anxiety.
So, why isn’t hydrogen the obvious answer we’ve been looking for? Well, perhaps due to a lack of mass investment (like as we have recently seen with the rapid adoption of EV technology), hydrogen cars and fuel is still very expensive. Hydrogen fuel costs around £12 per kilogram and hydrogen cars hold around 5 or 6 kg on average, meaning the fuel isn’t cheap at all and around the same as diesel or petrol prices.
Furthermore, there’s some seriously bad press around hydrogen fuel. Even though electric cars have highly flammable batteries underneath them, hydrogen is potentially much deadlier. A hydrogen chemical plant in California exploded in 2019, as did a hydrogen refuelling station in Norway. It also doesn’t help that the bomb even more devastating than an atomic bomb happens to be called the hydrogen bomb and the fuel cells of hydrogen cars are lined with Kevlar to protect occupants from potential dangers.
Some would argue that hydrogen as an energy source is less efficient than electricity as energy is lost during the electrolysis process, the cooling and pressurisation for transportation process and the fuel cell process that takes place in the car. Lastly, a lot of hydrogen, as it so happens, actually is generated from fossil fuels with some research with some saying it’s around 95% from unrenewable sources.
Pros and cons, as there is for everything. Do you think hydrogen cars have a future? Let us know in the comments!
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