Hydrogen vs Electric Cars: The Future of Transportation in 2023 and Beyond

As the world shifts towards more environmentally friendly modes of transportation, the debate between electric and hydrogen vehicles has risen. What distinguishes these two technologies? What advantages do they offer? And which will ultimately dominate the future?

How do electric and hydrogen cars work?

In a comparison of electric cars vs. hydrogen cars, it is essential to first understand how each technology works.

In an electric car, instead of fuel combusting to provide energy to an engine, a lithium-ion battery is used to supply electricity to a motor, which then turns the wheels and powers other elements of the car. When depleted, instead of going to a gas station, an electric car is recharged by plugging into the electricity grid, much like with a telephone or computer.

A hydrogen car works differently, although it does also contain an electric motor. Inside a hydrogen-powered car, a fuel cell filled with hydrogen reacts with oxygen, resulting in the chemical production of electricity and water vapor. This electricity is then used to fuel the motor. To “refill” a hydrogen car, its hydrogen fuel cell needs to be topped up via pressurized tanks available at specific service stations.

How Does a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Work?

Are Hydrogen cars Better for the Environment than Electric?

Which is superior, hydrogen or electric cars? Both have a similar positive impact on the environment.

When comparing efficiency, electric cars seem to have the edge with an efficiency rate of 75-90%, while hydrogen cars lag behind with a rate of 30-40% due to power loss during hydrogen production. The efficiency can be further reduced with the use of alternative fuels in producing the gas.

However, hydrogen cars have a quicker refueling time compared to electric cars, which can take up to 30 minutes to charge. Refilling a hydrogen fuel tank takes just 5 minutes or less. Currently, hydrogen cars are more expensive than their electric counterparts, primarily due to the high cost of hydrogen production.

It's worth noting that hydrogen fuel is a great option for heavy-duty applications such as rockets, marine use, trains, and buses. While electric batteries can also perform well in these settings, their efficiency may be lower.

What Hydrogen Cars Are Available in The USA And UK?

Several leading car manufacturers have embraced the concept of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with several models now available. Toyota and Hyundai are among the market leaders, both with multiple models in production.

Toyota offers the Mirai, a full-size executive sedan that has been available since 2014. It has seen success in the US, with over 9,200 units sold as of December 2021, and also performs well in Denmark, Germany, and the UK.

Hyundai has the ix35 FCEV, also known as the Tucson FCEV, which was in production from 2001 and was replaced by the Hyundai Nexo in 2018 for the 2019 model year. The Nexo is a compact crossover SUV with a hydrogen fuel tank capacity of 156 liters.

Renault announced in 2019 two utility vehicles to its line: the Kangoo Z.E. Hydrogen and Master Z.E. Hydrogen. Both vehicles will be equipped with a range-extender fuel cell providing electric and thermal power of 10 kW, offering a range of over 350 kilometers – the best range in the electric van and small-van category – in only five to ten minutes.

Electric cars vs. hydrogen: hydrogen’s long-term potential

Both hydrogen-powered cars and electric vehicles are greener alternatives to those powered by fossil fuels. As far back as 1970, the chemist John Bockris recognized the potential of what he termed the “hydrogen economy”. But what about today? What makes some people convinced that hydrogen cars are the better solution in the long term?

The cost of hydrogen and infrastructure

When it comes to purchase price, a hydrogen-powered car currently costs on average 70,000 euros but refueling tariffs vary considerably on the country and state. Regardless of where you live, however, the cost of hydrogen is high: four times that of an electric vehicle in the US, as reported by Clean Technica. But this looks set to change. The cost of hydrogen fuel cells has dropped by more than 80 % over the last five years, according to Hydrogen Europe.

In Europe, large-scale projects for rolling out hydrogen power are being developed. A report from Hydrogen Mobility Europe predicts that “hydrogen infrastructure scales better than competing zero emission technologies, both in terms of infrastructure costs and logistics.” In other words, once hydrogen power is adopted into fleets, with the necessary infrastructure, it will then become truly accessible to individuals.

Electric cars vs. hydrogen-powered cars: electric in the lead today

As part of their environmental policies, certain authorities have announced future bans on the production of gasoline, diesel and hybrid vehicles, such as the UK, whose deadline has been moved forward from 2040 to 2035. France is even further in advance, with diesel cars banned in Paris from 2024. As of August 2019, some 13 European cities had announced upcoming bans on all combustion-powered vehicles over the decade to come. BloombergNEF predicts that electrified vehicles will account for 40% of demand in Germany by 2030. In the U.S., electric car sales are expected to reach 60% by 2040.

Electric car charging stations

When it comes to electric cars vs. hydrogen-powered vehicles, for the time being the electric car is receiving the most international support. Governments worldwide are investing in the infrastructure required to roll out electric technology on a large-scale. Major cities like London and Paris are now familiar with electric charging stations, at highway rest stops, in shopping mall car parks, and along streets. Domestic outlets for charging electric vehicles are also increasingly common, with certain governments (the UK, for example) offering grants towards purchase and installation.

Electric car charging times and costs

The charging time and cost of an electric vehicle depends on the model, battery and type of charging station used. At a public charging station, for example, Renault ZOE recovers 80 kilometers of range in just 30 minutes, increasing up to 120km of range for the same time on a fast charging point. When it comes to the cost of recharging an electric car, this also varies considerably depending on battery size, country and type of charging station. In France, an electric car that consumes an average of 15 kWh per 100 kilometers costs 2.25 euros to travel 100 kilometers when charged at home, and just over 3 euros in the UK. In Germany, electric car charging stations bill per kilowatt-hour: around 0.30 euro to access both regular and rapid charging stations. High-power electric car charging stations are around ten euro more expensive, and can be as high as 0.90 euro per kilowatt-hour on non-partner networks.

There’s no argument, electricity is currently considerably less expensive than hydrogen power, despite international price variations. Add to this the fact that, if you recharge your electric car during off-peak grid times, the cost is even lower, and it’s easy to see that, despite a higher upfront cost for the vehicle, an electric car is a financially astute long-term investment.

Will hydrogen cars overtake electric?

Based on the electric car vs. hydrogen breakdown above, it might seem like the electric car is the outright winner. But not entirely. Hydrogen power, despite being the most abundant element on earth, and one of the “cleanest” fuels, is still in an early phase. But that isn’t to say that hydrogen cars don’t have a future.

Instead of focusing on electric cars vs. hydrogen, it might be more interesting to consider electric and hydrogen cars as part of a shared landscape. While the production of a lithium-ion battery uses large amounts of CO2, hydrogen production has the potential to be far less energy-intensive. And here is the key word: potential. With both hydrogen cars and electric vehicles less polluting than gasoline and diesel, all green evolutions are good news for the environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why Are Hydrogen Cars Not Popular?

Hydrogen cars are excellent fuel for vehicles, seeing that they are clean. It is not that popular as a standard fuel due to the associated expenses. Production of hydrogen gas is costly, making the cars equally pricey. The other reason is the low number of refueling stations. If you do not have a backup fuel tank, you may get stranded.

Q: Is There a Future for Hydrogen Cars?

Hydrogen cars are the future, seeing their positive impact on the environment. A hurdle to the mass production of cars is the cost of producing the gas. The good thing is there have been strides to make production cheaper. In the future, more brands will come out, seeing the impressive performance of the Toyota Mirai.

Q: Is Tesla Building a Hydrogen Car?

Tesla focuses on electric vehicles and is one of the prominent players in electric car manufacturing. It is unlikely that Tesla will have hydrogen cars, seeing the strong views Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has against hydrogen fuel cells. He mostly hits at the power inefficiency of the hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Q: Can Hydrogen Cars Explode?

Hydrogen is a flammable gas that can explode if not handled correctly. The good news is that explosions are rare due to the sturdy construction of the fuel relay systems in the vehicles. The cars undergo testing to ensure they are roadworthy, with zero chances of bursting into flames.

Q: Are Hydrogen Batteries the Future?

Hydrogen batteries are a clean energy source whose waste products are water vapor and heat not a threat to the earth and environment. It is a power source of the future, so long as suitable measures are in place to boost its efficiency.

Q: What Is Wrong with Hydrogen Cars?

Some of the disadvantages of hydrogen cars are inefficiency, high cost, and insufficient filling stations. All the issues will get sorted with technological improvements in the processing of this fuel. For instance, the cost will be low with the adoption of other catalysts besides platinum, which is reliable but pretty expensive.

Q: Is Hydrogen Cleaner Than Electric?

Focusing on the cleanest fuel source between hydrogen and electric cell, you can see it is a tie. Both have a positive impact and will be the energy of the future with a low carbon footprint. A fact to note is that hydrogen is as clean as its production method. It comes scarce if there was the use of carbon fuel during its production.

Q: How Much Is a Gallon of Hydrogen Gas?

Hydrogen gas is not that expensive, going at the average price of $1 to $1.8 per gallon. This is almost the same as a gallon of gasoline. When filling your hydrogen tank, you realize that the gas’ unit is in kilograms. A kilogram will cost you around $2.40.

Q: How Far Away Are Hydrogen Cars?

Hydrogen cars are with us now, and the path looks promising. Key industry players like Toyota and Hyundai are mass-producing hydrogen cars, and the market looks favorable. It is only a matter of time before the vehicles go fully mainstream and compete with electric cars.

Q: Will Hydrogen Cars Take Over Electric Cars In The Future?

Electric cars have a firm grip on the market, with most top vehicle manufacturers featuring electric trims. Hydrogen cars still fall short in efficiency, indicating electric cars will be the preferred clean fuel solution for a long time.

Conclusion

The question remains, which fuel will shape the future - hydrogen or electric? Both offer clean energy solutions and support efforts towards a greener environment, but each still has room for improvement. Despite a promising outlook for hydrogen vehicles, the technology has a substantial journey ahead.


Sources and References:
  • https://www.renaultgroup.com/en/news-on-air/news/electric-cars-vs-hydrogen-cars-whats-the-difference/
  • https://rxmechanic.com/hydrogen-vs-electric-cars/


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