Only roughly 15,000 hydrogen-powered cars are now on American roadways, and they are all located in California. In the meanwhile, there are millions of EVs on the road.
While hydrogen-powered vehicles are now in the background, electric vehicles are currently gaining prominence, with major manufacturers concentrating on making them the norm by 2030.
What hydrogen cars are, how they operate, and how probable it is that you will ever drive one are all explained here.
You’ve probably heard a lot recently about electric vehicles and the headlines on laws to limit automobile carbon emissions. Another type of zero-emission vehicle, however, releases just water vapor while transporting you along the road. That is a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, similar to an electric vehicle but with certain key distinctions that set hydrogen vehicles apart and make them far rarer.
Approximately 2.5 million EVs have been sold in the United States to far. In comparison, there will only be 15,000 or less hydrogen-powered automobiles on American roads by the middle of 2022. The only state having a network of retail hydrogen fuelling stations to make the cars operational is California, where all of them will be located.
Future Of Hydrogen Vehicles
A hydrogen car could be something to think about if you live in California and are looking for a zero-emission vehicle with an electric powertrain. However, there is currently considerable danger involved. The fuel is more expensive for drivers than gasoline, and building a new fuelling network from the ground up has proven to be far more difficult, expensive, and unreliable than automakers anticipated.
Without the 10,000 psi of hydrogen fuel, an HFCV is nothing more than a huge, expensive doorstop. If we were to hazard a prediction, we’d say electric vehicles are more likely to rule the road in the future.
Current Hydrogen Vehicles
Since 2015, the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Hyundai Nexo SUV, and Toyota Mirai have all been available for purchase from three separate automakers. However, Hyundai has only so far sold more than 1500 Nexo SUVs, while Honda has officially stopped producing all Clarity variants.
Over the course of two generations, Toyota, the firm most committed to using hydrogen power as an alternative to battery-electric vehicles, has sold around 10,700 Mirai sedans in the United States, despite at times resorting to significant discounts to move them. (Honda does not separate Clarity Fuel Cell sales from Clarity Plug-in Hybrid and Clarity Battery-Electric models.)
How Do Hydrogen Cars Work?
A battery-electric automobile employs the same sort of electric motor to turn the wheels as a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (HFCV for short). However, it is powered by a fuel-cell stack instead of a big, heavy battery, in which pure hydrogen (H2) travels through a membrane to react with airborne oxygen (O2) to create energy that moves the wheels and water vapor. Because of this, fuel-cell cars are frequently referred to as fuel-cell hybrid electric vehicles (FCHEV), even though they are actually series hybrids.
Hydrogen is considered by scientists to be an energy carrier rather than a fuel. Ignore that distinction, however, since HFCV drivers recharge at “hydrogen fueling stations” with a five-minute refueling duration that are conceptually comparable to the old dependable gas station.
The most prevalent element in the cosmos, according to some reports, is hydrogen. That is true at the atomic level, yet pure hydrogen is never discovered. It always comes in combination with other things. It makes a superb energy carrier because of its high inclination to bond with anything in sight. It takes a lot of energy to “crack” a substance like natural gas (CH4) into pure H2, with CO2 as a byproduct, in order to produce pure hydrogen for cars. (Today, the majority of hydrogen comes from fossil sources like natural gas.) When hydrogen is sent through a fuel cell, the moment it reacts with oxygen, it immediately returns that energy in the form of electricity. All that emerges from the exhaust pipe is water vapor (H2O).
Driving the vehicle
Driving an HFCV will essentially be the same as operating a battery-electric vehicle, but probably not one of the speedier ones. The vehicle has regenerative braking to recover energy lost as it slows down and no gearbox.
The difficulty facing car engineers is that hydrogen fuel cells perform best when their power output is constant. They are therefore useful for backup power use, for example. However, the power requirements in the typical automobile vary by a factor of ten, ranging from around 15 kilowatts (20 horsepower) to maintain a vehicle’s highway speed on a level road to maybe 10 or 20 times that much for the fastest acceleration to 60 mph or higher.
The Toyota Mirai, the most popular hydrogen vehicle in the United States, has a 90 kW (120 horsepower) fuel cell. However, in order to accelerate onto a fast-moving highway, Toyota (like with other HFCV manufacturers) incorporates a high-voltage low-capacity battery that is very comparable to those found in gasoline-electric hybrid cars. Its purpose is to provide extra power during brief bursts of strong acceleration; it is recharged either from surplus fuel-cell output while the vehicle is running at a constant speed or through regenerative braking when the vehicle slows. The three hydrogen vehicles that have been marketed recently all have EPA-rated ranges of 300 miles or more, although, like EVs, that range decreases significantly as speed increases.
How Safe Are Hydrogen Cars?
Since the high-pressure tanks are made to withstand even the most violent collisions at high speeds without leaking or breaching, HFCVs are generally regarded as being as safe as any other type of vehicle. Although opponents of hydrogen frequently point to the Hindenburg explosion in 1937, the hydrogen tanks and their associated technology would probably survive even if the rest of the vehicle was wrecked in an accident. In the very modest number of HFCVs marketed to date, no accidents or fatalities specifically related to the hydrogen components have been reported.
Refueling Stations For Hydrogen
While filling up a hydrogen automobile becomes second nature with practice, positioning the large nozzle correctly and closing it so that the car and pump can communicate electronically might take some getting used to. The majority of modern fueling stations can only fill up to five vehicles before they must be down for up to 30 minutes to repressurize.
The infrastructure for distributing hydrogen to retail shops is relatively weak, as HFCV drivers in the San Francisco Bay Area learned in June 2019. Nine of the area’s eleven hydrogen stations lost power due to an explosion, necessitating the nighttime use of diesel trucks to carry compressed hydrogen tanks hundreds of miles from Southern California.
Hydrogen Fuel Price
The narrow network of retail stations naturally charges high rates since hydrogen fuel is a specialist commodity for the general public. According to the California Hydrogen Business Council, the cost of a kilogram of hydrogen to travel the same distance in California is now between $10 and $17, or around $5 to $8.50 per gallon of gasoline.
Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota have all given their customers and lessees free hydrogen fuel for varying lengths of time to make up for this drawback. Each producer has a smidgeon of a distinct offer: In comparison to a Hyundai Nexo, a Toyota Mirai offers up to $15,000 in free hydrogen over the course of a three-year lease or up to six years of ownership.
Taking Care Of A Hydrogen Car
Similar to electric automobiles, dealership service facilities must take extra safety measures while working with hydrogen vehicles. The high-voltage battery packs in HFCVs are identical to those used in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles, but they additionally have one or more armored carbon-fiber tanks that can store pure hydrogen at a pressure of 10,000 pounds per square inch (psi), or 700 bars in metric units.
When it comes to routine maintenance, a hydrogen automobile is no different from any other car. It doesn’t include the hydrogen tanks, the fuel-cell stack, or the piping that links them. However, the state of California has a series of regulations to make sure that any escaping hydrogen doesn’t run the risk of an explosion if any of those components need to be handled.