Elon Musk called the Hydrogen-Powered Cars “Mind Bogglingly Stupid” but is it? If someone asks you “What is the future of cars?” Surely, you will answer “Electric Vehicles are the future”. Sure, but that’s not a 100% accurate either. Battery Electric Vehicles or BEVs are in the market and Tesla is the frontier in that field, but FCEV or Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles are also an option which is being considered by the major automakers such as Toyota, Hyundai, BMW, Honda etc. FCEVs are maybe better than BEVs if adopted widely.
What is the Difference Between BEVs and FCEVs?
BEVs or Battery Electric Vehicles use battery cells to store the electricity, then use that as the source of power for the electric motors running the cars. Whereas, FCEVs or Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles use Hydrogen as the fuel. It combines Hydrogen (H2) with Oxygen (O2) to produce electricity and then it uses that electricity to power the motors fitted inside the cars.
Refuelling or Recharging Time
FCEVs are not required to recharge like the BEVs, because FCEVs produce the electricity on demand, it doesn’t need to store the electricity like a Battery Electric Vehicle. There is a huge time difference in recharging these electric vehicles. A BEV can take up to One and Half hour to fully recharge but, an FCEV can be refuelled at a Hydrogen Gas Station in less than five minutes, later that Hydrogen will be used as the source of electricity.
We could see hydrogen fuel cell systems that cost four times less than lithium-ion batteries, as well as providing a much longer range. - David Antonelli, Chair Of Physical Chemistry At Lancaster University
Range of the Cars
A fully charged typical Battery Electric Vehicle such as Chevrolet Bolt gives you about 417 Kilometers range, and an expensive Tesla Model S gives you a range of 600 KMs. But, a standard FCEV such as Hyundai Nexo gives you a range of 612 Kilometers with a full tank of Hydrogen. Since range and refuelling/recharging time is important, 78% of automotive executives believe fuel-cell vehicles will be the breakthrough for electric mobility.
What’s Holding Back the FCEVs?
As you can see from the list above, clearly Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles are superior to Battery Electric Vehicles, but the main reason holding us back from using the FCEVs is the high cost. A Standard FCEV will cost you 20,000$ more than a standard BEV. That’s because a very low number of FCEVs are produced and thus, the production cost goes higher. Now, carmakers are planning to increase the number of FCEVs produced every year and Toyota alone have increased the number by 10 times. Hence, if the FCEVs are mass-produced then the production cost will go down and then, Battery Electric Vehicles will face a huge competition.
Another technical difficulty for FCEVs is the low number of Hydrogen Gas Station. For example, in California, there are 1600+ Tesla Charges whereas, California only has 44 H2 Gas Stations. It’s only a matter of time before the number of Hydrogen Gas Stations gets increased. If and once that gets increased, Tesla will surely face a huge competition in holding its huge stake in the Zero Emission Electric Vehicle's market.
What About the Safety? Is Hydrogen Safe?
Hydrogen fuel is as safe as Petrol or Gasoline we use in our current vehicles. An average Petrol Tank holds 3 to 4 times higher Petrol than Hydrogen, hence Gasoline or Petrol tanks are 3 to 4 times higher explosive than Hydrogen tanks.
Another noticeable point is, Hydrogen is the lightest element, approximately 14 times lighter than air. Even though it's highly flammable, escaped hydrogen vanishes very quickly before even catching fire.
We like the idea of FCEVs and the cars available so far are cool. Let's see where market in headed in the next decade.
Source: Business Insider, Hyundai, BMW.