For a long time, people have been saying that hydrogen is the future for passage cars. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) runs on pressurized hydrogen acquired from a fuel station but has zero emissions. It fills up as quickly as the fossil-fuels and offer a similar range as petrol. This fuel has heavy backing with a company like Toyota showcasing the second-gen Mirai later in 2020.
A report by the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Association praised the use of hydrogen cars. It stated that the carbon footprint if far much better than electric vehicles, which is per kilometer 2.7g of CO2 in comparison to 20.9g. With this in mind, the hydrogen fuel cell is a flawed concept. In the achievement of zero carbon emissions, hydrogen will play an enormous role in replacing natural gas used in industry and home use for heating. Even with all this in mind, the hydrogen will struggle to compete with electric cars. Two new pronouncements accompany the reinforcement of this view.
The BloombergNEF report concluded that battery technology offers the market a cheaper solution than fuel cells on the bulk of a car, bus, and light truck. In a statement by Volkswagen on the comparison of energy-efficient technologies, they concluded that for a passenger car, the battery technology is the most favorable, and there is nothing that speaks to the favor of hydrogen.
There comes an important question to answer. What is the Hydrogen efficiency problem?
The manner of energy transition can explain the inefficiency of hydrogen. Energy from a hydrogen cell moves from wire to gas to the wire to power cars. It is the energy vector transition. Assume that 100watts of electricity from a renewable source like a wind turbine power the FCEV. First, using electrolysis, the power is converted to hydrogen. This process causes a loss of 75% energy efficiency, which is one-quarter of the electricity. Secondly, this hydrogen is compressed, chilled then transported to the hydrogen station. This process is about 90% efficient. Thirdly, when the hydrogen is in the vehicle, it is converted to electricity providing a 60% efficiency. In the end, the power used in the electric motor to move the car has 95% efficiency. In consideration of all this, 38% of the first electricity is used.
When it comes to electric vehicles, all the energy runs on the wires from the source to the car. Considering that the same 100 watts of power from the wind turbine is in use about 5% of efficiency is lost in its journey. The assumption is that the conversion of the hydrogen is onsite at a wind farm.
Further, during charging and discharging the li-ion battery, a further 10% of energy is lost. Also, another 5% is lost when making the vehicle move. So, electricity left to power is 80watts. In conclusion, the hydrogen cell requires double the energy.
Battery Swap Shops
On our roads today there are 5 million electric cars with the sales still rising. At best, this is around 0.5% of the global car population, but electric vehicles are doing better than hydrogen cars, which by the end of 2019 had 7,500 car sales globally. It is worth noting that the hydrogen fueling stations are few, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, they are not a priority. Hydrogen car enthusiasts point out that there are benefits that outweigh electric cars such as, refueling the hydrogen is much faster than charging an electric vehicle. Also, the distance per tank is longer than an electric car. For this reason, some people decide against buying an electric vehicle.
In China, electric car sales are more than one million in a year, thus demonstrating that these issues are solvable. They are building infrastructure that allows electric car owners to drive into forecourts to swap batteries quickly. The Shanghai-based car manufacture NIO has set up these stations with a purported three-minute swap at these stations. The Chinese are planning to construct more swap stations with companies such as BJEV investing 1.3 billion euros in building 3,000 battery charging stations in China.
Building such infrastructure is not only an answer to range anxiety for future electric car owners but also addresses their high cost in the market. The average sale of an electric car comprises 25% on its batteries, which is quite high compared to their petrol and diesel models. Utilizing the battery swap concept, one could rent a battery with the swap cost included in the rental fee. It would significantly reduce purchase costs with the effect of incentivizing uptake by the public. In a case where the swap batteries charge with surplus renewable electricity for the positive for the environment.
This concept will require the standardization of battery technology to a certain degree, which might not be likely for European carmakers. Because battery technology may make it possible for cars to travel millions of kilometers, it is quite an attractive business model. For heavy trucks or vans, batteries might not be suitable; thus, hydrogen may come on top according to the BloombergNEF report.
On the carbon emissions, the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association report state earlier. It is good to note that statistical the comparison of hydrogen used in the report comes from purely renewable energy. At the same time, electric vehicles are using electricity from fossil fuels. In the case where both were powered using renewable electricity, there would be a similar carbon footprint.