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Viability of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

EV Aware

FCEVs (fuel cell electric vehicles), are frequently championed as a promising alternative to more conventional battery powered EVs (electric vehicles), also referred to as BEVs (battery electric vehicles).

They are powered using hydrogen, and like their battery powered counterparts, they are also considered to produce zero harmful emissions. Where they differ, is that the FCEV should be capable of a much faster charging time and range. They also claim to be cleaner to produce and recycle than the battery powered EV due to differences in raw materials used in their production; namely the reduced presence of heavy metals like lithium and cobalt.

These potential, positive qualities of the FCEV make it an attractive alternative to the battery powered EV, however, there are numerous issues with the technology that reduce its viability for the moment:

  • Infrastructure: Hydrogen, the fuel source of the FCEV, is inaccessible at home, and there is no financially viable infrastructure in place to support refuelling.
  • Fuel Efficiency: When you consider hydrogen generation, transportation, and storage, the fuel efficiency of the FCEV is lower than that of the battery powered EV. The Institute of the Motor Industry puts them at about a third of the efficiency of their counterparts. Though according to companies like Deloitte, they are set to become cheaper to run, FCEVs currently cost significantly more to fuel than battery powered EVs. This higher cost to run means that the lifetime costs of FCEVs are also going to be higher than those of battery powered EVs.
  • Hydrogen Production: Most of the world’s hydrogen production is currently fuelled by non-renewable sources. According to IRENA, at the end of 2021, almost 47% of the global hydrogen production was from natural gas, 27% from coal, 22% from oil, and only around 4% came from electrolysis.
  • Storage: Efficiently storing hydrogen on a vehicle presents a challenge. Hydrogen has a poor volumetric energy density, so storing enough on board to fuel the vehicle presents weight, volume, kinetics, cost, and safety concerns. The pressure alone that a hydrogen tank on an FCEV must be stored at is staggering, usually sitting somewhere between 5,000-10,000 psi. For comparison, a car tire is around 35 psi, and a sub aqua dive is around 3000 psi.

These issues make FCEV technology less viable at present, than the continued use and development of battery powered EVs. With that said, FCEV technology is still in active development, and may find a home in some niches as advancements allow. Overall, the ITF (International Transport Forum) reported that in 90% of scenarios explored, FCEVs did not occupy a market share larger than 10% by 2050. It becomes apparent then, that battery powered EV technology may deserve more of your attention than FCEV technology, for the moment.

At econetiQ, we are driven to make positive change in the EV industry, building a network of electric vehicle chargers. If you have a project you would like to discuss or would like more information, contact us here.

Author: Connor Clarke, Marketing Associate, econetiQ

Connor is a green-conscious content writer based in Bristol. As an advocate for clean energy solutions, Connor is dedicated to inspiring and educating people to involve themselves in the EV industry.

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