If cost is a measure of how willing people are to get into alternative fuel vehicles, such as fuel cell vehicles, won’t expensive hydrogen fuel effectively cancel out any environmental benefits?
We’ve already discussed how much it costs to power a fuel cell vehicle, and it’s actually cheaper than battery electric vehicles. Battery electric vehicles also have the benefit of being really cheap to recharge, just 12 ¢/kWh average across the United States. Comparing gasoline to hydrogen fuel, for those who aren’t interested in battery electric vehicles, seems like a pretty easy conversion, but isn’t hydrogen fuel more expensive?
First, taking a look at the energy in a 2.83 kg of gasoline (one gallon) and a kilogram of hydrogen fuel, we find they’re about the same, 39,400 Wh/kg H2, and about 36,500 Wh/kg gasoline, yet a kilogram of hydrogen fuel, generated via wind power, costs at least 40% more than today’s average gallon of gasoline. “Well, there you have it! Refueling a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is more expensive!”
True, hydrogen fuel and gasoline have about the same amount of energy per unit, but how efficient are fuel cell vehicles compared to conventional, or even hybrid, vehicles? Using the Toyota Prius Hybrid as an example, the inefficiencies of the internal combustion engine, even combined with the advanced hybrid electric powertrain, still only manages 50 mpg, about 7 ¢/mi. The Hyundai ix35 fuel cell vehicle, on the other hand, recently tested as high as 80 MPGe, which rounds out to just 6.3 ¢/mi.
Considering that wind-power-generated hydrogen fuel isn’t even the cheapest method, it’s quite impressive that renewable hydrogen fuel ends up being cheaper than even gasoline. Add in the fact that zero emissions are generated, and health care and pollution-remediation costs disappear altogether.
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