Hydrogen-powered vehicles are similar to gas-fueled counterparts. They both use the same four-stroke design, ignition, and compression technology. However, there are also pretty big differences too.
James Morris on Forbes reveals that due to high carbon emissions, many traditional automakers will turn to hydrogen technology as a viable solution in the near future. Even though hydrogen is inefficient compared to battery-powered alternatives, it is also a great solution to solve the planet’s iconological issues.
So a crucial question is, what’s going on in the auto industry related to hydrogen engines? And will hydrogen-fueled vehicles become the future of this world soon? Let us dive deeper into it to figure out the answer.
What is a Hydrogen Engine?
Experts believe that non-conventional vehicles such as hydrogen-fueled cars have a bright future ahead. But, how does this emerging technology works? Hydrogen-fueled cars are also referred to as e-Cars because they are powered by an electric motor.
Unlike a conventional vehicle, a hydrogen car does not get its power from an installed battery that is replicable anytime. On the other hand, hydrogen-powered vehicles have their own power plants installed, known as fuel cells.
In a typical fuel cell, oxygen and hydrogen produce electricity to provide power. Then this power is transferred to an electric motor and the car’s battery. This process is also known as reverse electrolysis that generates a chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen in the fuel cell.
As a result of this chemical reaction, heat and water is emitted through the exhaust. Since the kinetic energy of the car is converted into electrical energy by the motor; kinetic energy goes into the backup battery. This means that hydrogen-fueled vehicles are efficient in terms of carbon emission.
Pros and Cons of Hydrogen-Fueled Cars
From the perspective of consumers, the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen-fueled cars can be viewed in terms of engine efficiency. However, from an environmental perspective, the benefits of hydrogen-based cars can be measured in terms of environmental-friendliness.
For example, hydrogen engines use pure electrical propulsion, when a driver drives it, it does not feel different than driving an ordinary vehicle. That means hydrogen cars literally have no engine noise and often start silently. Even at a lower speed, an electric motor offers full torque.
Another benefit for users is the charging time of hydrogen cars. The capacity of the battery can play a role in reducing charging time. Most hydrogen vehicles take 30 minutes to a few hours to charge completely. For savvy drivers, these benefits bring flexibility and save time.
Compared to fully electric cars such as Tesla, hydrogen vehicles have a longer driving range. For instance, with a full tank, a hydrogen-fueled vehicle can travel up to 480 kilometers. Not even cars with very large batteries can match that range. Hydrogen cars also have reduced weight and a comparable refueling time to gas vehicles.
In addition to such benefits, there are current disadvantages for users. The biggest con of hydrogen-fueled cars is the scarcity of options related to fueling these cars.
Since a hydrogen-fueled engine needs to be refilled at special hydrogen pumps, the fuel is not currently available in ordinary service stations. As the population of hydrogen cars grows, there are still not enough refueling stations to meet the needs.
According to the BMW website, in December 2019, there were only around 40 hydrogen fuel stations in the United States compared to only 80+ in Germany. The stats show that the network of hydrogen-fueled stations is thin. This will result in lower mass production of hydrogen vehicles. It is anyone’s guess how many hydrogen vehicles will roam the streets in the future. The biggest downside comes in the form of cost of setting up a hydrogen fueling station. On average, it takes USD 2 million with just one fueling point. For a gas station, it’s USD 300k and for an electric station, it’s under USD 50k.
Inherent Flaw of Hydrogen Vehicles
No one can forget the convenience factor of hydrogen cars; however, according to Forbes, a significant flaw in hydrogen engines is that water is used to produce hydrogen. Since green hydrogen can be produced by electrolyzing hydrogen to split it into hydrogen and oxygen, the only way to produce green hydrogen is to use electrolyzing process.
The flaw of this process is that it loses 30% of energy by splitting H2 from the O2. Moreover, when you lose additional 26% remaining energy from moving hydrogen to fuel stations, you are only left with 48% of the energy to be transferred to the vehicles. This is also one of the reasons why hydrogen costs more. Things are not looking healthy for hydrogen-fueled cars to rule the world somewhere by 2025. Unless scientists find ways to reduce wastage of energy or make hydrogen fuel widely available across the world, hydrogen-fueled vehicles are losing the battle to electric cars.