Why Don’t We Have More Hydrogen Cars? Electric vs Hydrogen

What are Hydrogen Cars?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric vehicles that use a fuel cell to power an electric motor. it uses Hydrogen as a fuel, stored in a tank and converted to electricity by the fuel cell. Unlike conventional internal combustion engines, these vehicles do not emit harmful exhaust emissions. 

The beginnings of Hydrogen Fuel cell 

The first hydrogen fuel cell engine is the electrovan, produced in 1966 by GM. The Electrovan could exceed 70 mph and reach 60 in 30 seconds. The overall range was 150 miles. For safety reasons, the Electovan was only driven on GM grounds. The project was abandoned soon after it was constructed, tested, and revealed to the press in 1966. The cost of the platinum in the fuel cell would buy a fleet of Handivans, and there was no practical hydrogen infrastructure back then.


FCEVs are recently being advertised as the eco-friendly future of cars and civil transport, but where was this technology, and why didn’t see any hydrogen engine cars until recently? What is the superiority of hydrogen engine cars over the battery-electric ones, and with all these superiorities, why hydrogen cars are not popular as battery-electric cars? Does this type of vehicle have any future, and what killed this amazing technology if it’s dead?

How do Hydrogen Cars work?

The polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell is the most popular fuel cell used in vehicles. An electrolyte membrane is placed between a positive electrode (cathode) and a negative electrode in a PEM fuel cell (anode). The anode receives Hydrogen, whereas the cathode receives oxygen (from the air). An electrochemical process in the fuel cell catalyst splits hydrogen molecules into protons and electrons. Protons then go to the cathode through the membrane.

The electrons are pushed via an external circuit to produce work (powering the electric vehicle), then recombine with the protons on the cathode side to make water. To understand more about the process, Watch the video below:

What are the pros of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars?

FCEVs have enormous advantages over EVs and combustion engines. The United States Department of Energy is leading research efforts to make hydrogen-powered vehicles a cost-effective, ecologically beneficial, and safe mode of transportation. Under the Energy Policy Act of 1992, Hydrogen is classified as an alternative fuel and is eligible for alternative fuel vehicle tax credits.

Hydrogen Cars Driving Range

FCEVs run on pure hydrogen gas stored in a tank of the vehicle. Other advanced technologies, including regenerative braking systems that absorb and store energy lost while braking, are included in FCEVs to improve efficiency. They have a driving range of over 350 miles. Like traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, EVs have an average driving range of 200 miles at full battery health, which will decrease drastically over time.

Hydrogen Cars Emissions

Hydrogen is used to power fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). They are more fuel-efficient than traditional internal combustion engines and release no harmful emissions—only water vapor and warm air. 

Unlike lithium batteries, which must be replaced after a certain time, fuel cells do not degrade. They provide energy as long as the fuel supply is available, resulting in considerable environmental advantages over time. 

Hydrogen Cars Refueling Time

One of the critical disadvantages of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) is the refueling time. An EV can take up to one hour of charging time at the station, while an FCEV car refueling duration time is similar to the fuel refueling process. It takes 5 min for the tank to get fully refueled. Hydrogen fuel cells have 10 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. This implies hydrogen-powered cars might have a substantially longer range while being lighter.

Further Applications

You could be thinking, wow, the technology is fantastic. So, where can it be used if it doesn’t work for vehicles?

Surprisingly, hydrogen fuel cells are used for various purposes other than vehicles. Amazon, for example, uses hydrogen-powered forklifts to carry merchandise. Hydrogen offers itself as an excellent choice for extra power in rural locations. Fuel cells fueled by Hydrogen are now being used by NASA on their space shuttles.

What are the cons of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars?

FCEV seems impressive, so why aren’t they popular? And why do we rarely see a hydrogen car on the road?

Hydrogen Cars Efficiency 

Battery electric vehicles are almost twice as efficient as a fuel cell!
Electric cars have an efficiency of roughly 80% since they consume power directly without any conversion. As a result, hydrogen automobiles are inefficient compared to their electric counterparts. So, what does this mean for our environment?

Well, hydrogen cars require twice as much energy to power. This energy is taken from fossil fuels, nuclear power plants, solar panels, and windmills. No vehicle is entirely green, but Hydrogen is a surprisingly worse alternative than EV in terms of efficiency, but still more efficient than gas-powered cars. 

Lack of hydrogen Stations

With only 45 stations across the US and most of them having one pump, hydrogen car buyers are forced to conduct their daily lives within the vicinity of these stations. So if you live outside of some large cities in California, you might have some trouble driving anywhere. 

Source: Newyork times

Constructing one hydrogen fuel station is 2 million, while an electric station costs 50K $ while a gas pump costs around 200k $. It’s hard for companies to commit such large sums of money, towards hydrogen stations, with no promise of return, on investment.

Hydrogen Fuel Cost 

The high cost of hydrogen fuel and hydrogen automobiles are further drawbacks of this alternative fuel. Refueling a hydrogen car costs around 17 $ per kilogram since Hydrogen is measured by weight. Each hydrogen fuel cell car can hold 5 to 6 kilograms of Hydrogen, its travels up to 400 miles per one fill. The cost of a full tank is about $100.

In terms of fuel costs, hydrogen fuel is more expensive than regular gasoline. Hydrogen fuel prices are expected to fall dramatically in the near future, making fuel cell automobiles more appealing to the general public.

Hydrogen Cars Price

One of the main drawbacks of hydrogen-powered vehicles today is their high price.
The price of new hydrogen-powered vehicles is often substantially greater than that of traditional automobiles. There are 3 FCEVs available today, Honda Clarity, Hyundai Nexo, and Toyota Mirai, the cheapest Mirai starting at $49,500.

Battery Electric vehicles are often less expensive. for example Tesla Model 3 starting price is $41,940. This might, however, change in the future if technology advances at such a rapid pace. A significant reduction in the price of fuel cell automobiles is possible in the near future.

What killed the hydrogen cars?

When EVs started to get into the market, they were facing tremendous barriers due to the lack of proper infrastructure and technology ( charging, batteries, performance,) and they were pretty expensive,  but EVs were able to overtake these barriers because of the enormous amount of investment in the market. 

Most of the drawbacks of FCEVs (Car cost, fuel cost, stations, and efficiency ) can be improved by investing the proper amount of money into this technology.

Why hydrogen technology is not catching up 

According to recent research in Nature magazine, hydrogen fuel cell cars will never catch up to battery-electric vehicles, even for commercial trucks. But why? 

To sum up, if there is something to blame to kill this amazing technology, we should blame EVs. FCEV technology could be a promising technology if the EVs didn’t exist. Lithium battery technology started to expand fast beyond hydrogen vehicles. The attention was on EVs. Thus, loads of money and research went into producing lithium batteries. However, Hydrogen was left behind, and the interest in hydrogen fuel cells decreased. 

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