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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Way Behind Electric Vehicles, Can They Catch Up?

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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle, Honda FCX Clarity, Just the Beginning?
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle, Honda FCX Clarity, Just the Beginning?

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are essentially electric vehicles, only their energy storage system varies, but it could be that storage system is which is stunting their development.

It all has to do with how these two vehicles store their energy. For example, the most-advanced electric vehicle, the Tesla Model S, stores grid energy chemically in its lithium-ion battery pack, which is then used to run the vehicle. To refuel a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, hydrogen gas is first generated, by one method or another, and then stored in a pressurized tank in a vehicle such as the Honda FCX Clarity. From an emissions standpoint, these two vehicles could be on equal ground, but from an infrastructure standpoint, they’re miles apart.

True, one advantage hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have over electric vehicles is recharging / refueling time. The FCX Clarity refuels in the same amount of time as a conventional dinosaur-fueled vehicle, while the Tesla Model S, on a Supercharger, takes a little less than an hour for a full charge. The problem is cost. According to Tesla Motors, it costs about $250,000 to install a Tesla Supercharger, where a hydrogen refueling station might cost $1,000,000. This cost differential is present also in the vehicles themselves.

One analyst, Carlos Uribe, who writes for SeekingAlpha investment news and analysis, believes this disparity could be the downfall, or at least a major delay for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Looking at the numbers, electric vehicles are far ahead in the race. The Honda FCX Clarity, for example, only has 25 leased models running the roads, and only in California, while electric vehicles have sold upwards of 55,000, across multiple brands.

On the other hand, there is a lot of research going into hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that is expected to reduce costs and improve infrastructure implementation, so it could be that they’re simply starting off where electric vehicles started off in the 1990s, or where gasoline-powered vehicles started off in the 1890s.

Image © awata_san Foter CC BY-NC-ND

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8 COMMENTS

  1. DuncanCairncross Not sure what happened to your other comment, but it’s interesting to me that when I was studying fuel cells [intellectually, not professionally] that fuel cells were supposed to be able to work with practically any hydrogen-rich fuel, even hydrocarbon-rich fuels like gasoline or diesel. Not sure what happened there.

  2. LoneWolffe DuncanCairncross  
    Hydrogen could be clean – yes
    But it will always be less efficient!
    The only way to change this would be to move from hydrogen to a designed liquid fuel,
    That would remove the efficiency hit from pressurization –  then we would need fuel cells designed to use the fuel
    If a liquid fuel and its fuel cells were developed this would give better energy density and may be useful for the small number of operations where the energy density of batteries is too low
    Aircraft??

  3. The problem is not just the cost of the infrastructure – it’s the efficiency
    Compressing hydrogen to a useful density eats a lot of energy – about 40% of the available from the fuel cell
    A Hydrogen car is at best about half as efficient as a pure EV in generated power to miles travelled

  4. Joseph Lado if only money was no object, then we could all live in solar-powered homes that generate hydrogen gas via electrolysis and drive unlimited miles powered by sunlight. sadly, the world is not so. hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure are just too ridiculous in price [as well as methane reforming, which just makes me sick.]
    a solar-powered chevy volt is awesome and, who knows, maybe after tesla motors releases the model x, they will work on something for the masses.

  5. California offered $10,000,000 of low interest financing and $1,000,000 as a grant to jump start its hydrogen highway and it had no takers. The cost of pure hydrogen is currently at an equivalent gallon cost of $24 per gallon. Why would anyone switch to hydrogen to pay that much more for fuel. It cost $750,000 for Honda to make each of its 200 FCX Clarity vehicles. Toyota has announced that it can produce a fuel cell for far less, but that remains to be seen. Toyota’s cheapest hydrogen fuel cell vehicle cost over a million dollars each. The hydrogen vehicle the hydrogen Hummer is big but can only fit two people because the rest of the vehicle is devoted to compression tanks for hydrogen and it only got about 150 miles when fully loaded with hydrogen. It would cost over a trillion dollars to build out a hydrogen infrastructure to be able to fuel hydrogen vehicles with relatively low ranges that have been demonstrated so far. Electric vehicles like the model S have ranges of over 250 miles and can be charged up with the same electricity you get at home. Can fully charge at their fast charging stations in less than an hour. Take a lunch break and continue on your way. Since electric vehicles charge at home they can be useful now, while a hydrogen vehicle won’t be useful until the infrastructure is built out. I have a Volt and most of the time I don’t use gasoline. I fill up once a year at this point. However, I can tap into the existing gasoline infrastructure to go long distances. Once I have the money or Tesla creates a vehicle that I can afford and goes 200 miles on a charge I will be buying it. There have been over 100,000 electric vehicle sold and the sales are outpacing those of hybrids when they were first introduced. Hydrogen vehicles are the vehicles of the future, unfortunately they always will be as battery technology and electric vehicles improve. BTW my Volt is charge by solar and wind generated electricity so outside of that one tank of gasoline I use in the course of a year it is emission free.

  6. brucedp0 i believe i was quite clear that HFC vehicles are refueled with hydrogen gas, and that EVs are charged from grid power. apart from the pressurized tanks and fuel cell and lithium-ion battery pack though, the rest of the system is very similar.
    you’re right though, i made zero mention of the actual number of fueling stations, but i believe the number is just over 200 globally, 27 of them in California. https://www.greenoptimistic.com/2013/04/22/california-hydrogen-refueling-stations/ compare this to thousands of EV charging stations and over hundred thousand gasoline stations, and you can see that H2 stations have a long way to go
    and you’re right, i didn’t mention anything about how hydrogen is produced. take a look around the site, and i’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for. i couldn’t put everything in one post. if one of the solar options works out efficient and economical, that might be the best way to get hydrogen gas, but right now, the best *cough* method in use in methane reformation, which is just all bad https://www.greenoptimistic.com/2013/07/23/is-there-really-a-greener-hydrogen-basf/ might as well look up fracking, while you’re at it 🙂

  7. An h2fcv is not an EV. h2fcvs have electric components like a hybrid, but h2fcvs do not recharge from an outlet, they refuel. It is best to not use words or terms that will confuse the public, as they are not the same.
    The sad part that is not mentioned in the piece, is that the H2 is quite hard to find, see
    http://www.afdc.energy.gov/locator/stations/results?utf8=%E2%9C%93&location=&filtered=true&fuel=HY&owner=all&payment=all&radius=true&radius_miles=99
    And that the h2 is not made from splitting water into h2 (using 15kW of electricity to make 6kW of h2), but made from fossil sources (like methane, ch4 from Canada or Mexico) where no one is stating what happens to the left over carbon gunk left over after reforming out the h2 (!?!).
    {brucedp.150m.com}

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