We are already at the crossroads of a whole new future. New sources of fuel are about to change everything we know as motoring enthusiasts. We at Tech Insider 360 explored the future of hydrogen-powered vehicles.
We were dependant on internal combustion engines. It was the only option to drive our vehicles for more than a hundred years. New technologies have developed, but most of them at the expense of the environment.
But, we realized that it is not too late to transition. Car manufacturers are now searching for alternative propulsion methods. The advent of hydrogen-powered vehicles is the best option.
Hybrid electric motors and hydrogen fuel cell technology have finally emerged.
The competition is between electric mobility and hydrogen fuel cell technology. Hybridization offers us the best current option. This is because electric mobility is not yet wholly viable.
But, with the hybrid technology, we will also explore electrification benefits. These two propulsion techniques offer similar driving experiences. They both use electric motors to drive the wheels.
What role will hydrogen fuel cell technology play in the future?
Besides electric vehicles (BEVs), hydrogen vehicles will contribute to sustainable mobility. The required hydrogen infrastructure needs to be in place at a reasonable price. The vehicle price will come within an affordable range.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars will not emit carbon. It will allow users to maintain flexible driving habits.
The processing and transportation of Hydrogen are the same as LPG. As you stand and wait, it dispenses from a pump. It fills a physical tank then and empties when you start moving around.
There is the infrastructure that we already have to supply liquid fuels. With the investment, hydrogen can use the same distribution network. Even cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells have a range equal to that of a standard petrol hatchback.
How Do hydrogen-powered vehicles Work?
Hydrogen-powered vehicles sound pretty exotic. Still, it’s an electric car. It substitutes a thin, lightweight, and expensive BEV engine. It generates electricity onboard, replacing the bulky, heavy, and costly grid-charged battery packs.
FCEVs use electricity to run electric motors, much like all-electric vehicles. FCEVs use a hydrogen-powered cell to generate energy instead of from only a battery.
Car manufacturers could design an FCEV with plug-in features to charge the battery. Most FCEVs today use the battery to restore braking energy. It then supplies this extra power during short accelerations. This helps to smooth out the fuel cell’s capacity with the idling feature. Also, during low power needs it switches off.
The amount of energy stored onboard depends on the size of the hydrogen tank. This is different from an all-electric car. There, both the amount of available power and energy depends on the battery capacity.
How is electricity created from hydrogen?
An electrochemical reaction occurs in a fuel cell. It involves two elements joining together. But it’s an electrical reaction because it produces electricity while running its course.
Like those in a battery, a fuel cell has three main parts. A positive and negative terminal. And a chemical (electrolyte) separates the two that hold them apart.
Think of the whole thing as a sandwich with ham. The two terminals are the bread chunks, and the ham between is the electrolyte.
The tank’s hydrogen gas feeds down a pipe to the positive terminal. Hydrogen is volatile and flammable, so the tank must be concrete. Oxygen comes down a second pipe from the air to the negative terminal.
Astronauts from NASA power up their space shuttles using hydrogen since the 1960s. The source of water was the by-product of the fuel cell.
Which manufacturers currently offer Hydrogen vehicles?
Few carmakers are currently manufacturing hydrogen-powered vehicles for public sale as of 2020. Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda are the leading companies. All produce hydrogen-powered cars. But in small numbers and limited markets, coming off their production lines.
The Hyundai Nexo FCEV, Honda Clarity, or Toyota Mirai are available as our options.
Other brands are getting into the act. At least they are exploring the concept of adding fuel cells of hydrogen to their fuel form mix.
BMW unveiled the iHydrogen in Frankfurt. With its h-Tron, Audi has renewed its commitment to fuel. Mercedes-Benz introduced its B-Class-based F-Cell FCEV back in 2010.
Which has a brighter future, hybrids or hydrogen-powered vehicles?
In gasoline-powered combustion engines, energy extracts through fuel burning. In a hydrogen-powered vehicle engine, a chemical reaction occurs. Here, hydrogen and oxygen react to produce energy with water as the byproduct.
Thus, using hydrogen is clean. Also, it gives three times more energy than gasoline as it burns hotter and faster.
With proper infrastructure and decreased price of hydrogen. The drivers will enjoy their driving flexibility.
With fuel-cell prototype passenger vehicles. There is now a wealth of practical experience available.
Major automobile manufacturers have started to sell early series-production automobiles. These are almost as good as traditional internal combustion engine cars.
There will be thousands of units of FCEVs in the coming years. All fuel cell cars today come with PEM fuel cells. They offer both series and parallel configurations.
Medium-sized FCEVs cost more than ICEs cars passenger cars, at about EUR 60,000 / USD. Vehicle costs and prices will drop with the start of the FCEV series development.
The fuel cell stacks have an output of 100 kW or more in the newest fuel cell versions.
They provide a more comprehensive range, with lower vehicle weight. Though, a much shorter refueling period of three to five minutes. If compared to BEVs, they cover about 400 to 500 kilometers.
Usually, they hold 4 to 7 kg of hydrogen on board, held at 700 bars in pressure tanks.
The efficiency problem that comes with hydrogen-powered vehicles
The reason why hydrogen is inefficient is that it fuels a car. The energy must pass from wire to gas to wire. This is also called the transformation of energy vectors.
Let’s take 100 watts of electricity, such as a wind turbine, provided by a renewable source. It passes through the water in the electrolysis process. The energy converts into hydrogen to power an FCEV.
This is about 75% energy-efficient because of about a fifth of the energy wastes. Later, it needs compression, chilling, and transportation to the gas station. A process that is about 90 percent inefficient.
The hydrogen goes through a transformation to electricity once inside the engine. This is 60 percent efficient. Finally, about 95% of the electricity in the engine to drive the vehicle is efficient. Put together. It uses 38% of the initial energy.
Are there enough fuelling stations?
There are hardly any hydrogen stations outside California as of today. Around 40 operational hydrogen gas pumps are currently operating in LA and Bay Area. Under the California Fuel Cell Partnership.
It is a real challenge to create enough fuel stations that will meet the growing market demand. The industry is working to open at least 200 pumps by 2025. But this is well behind the region’s current 17,000 charging stations.
A few stations in New York and Connecticut offer hydrogen in the north-east. In general, comparing to the west coast, that part of the US is 5-6 years behind the race.
Most Americans have not yet seen a hydrogen refueling station. But they will spread inwards from the coasts once they become famous.
What are the main drawbacks?
About 98% of hydrogen comes from steam methane reforming. This process releases carbon dioxide. An alternative can be using renewable feedstocks. This uses thermochemical or pyrolytic means, but the methods are currently pricey.
Moreover, the expenditure required for hydrogen filling stations. The transport of hydrogen to filling stations. And the absence of facilities to manufacture or dispense hydrogen at home.
Fuel cell vehicles can also reduce half of the carbon emissions if hydrogen is from natural gas. It can reduce by 90 percent if the hydrogen is from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.
The future looks so bright and convenient for all. For car lovers and environmentalists alike.