Pros & Cons Of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars (Advantages & Disadvantages)

Below we’ve put together a list of the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell cars.

 

Summary – Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Pros & Cons

Potential Pros

Hydrogen already fuels transport in parts of the US

Hydrogen fuel can be eco friendly in some ways during the car’s operation

HVs might be more efficient than conventional cars in some ways

HVs may require less maintenance

HVs may provide a good driving experience in some ways

HVs may provide a longer driving range and driving distance than some EVs

Re-fuelling HVs might be relatively quick

There may be other benefits in using fuel cells for vehicles

There’s may be an increasing number of stations being built over time

Hydrogen is abundant

There may be potential for hydrogen to be renewable

Hydrogen may help build the economic independence of some countries

Hydrogen fuel cells used in cars may be more efficient than internal combustion engines

Fuel cell materials might have alternatives

There’s may still be room for more improvement in the technology

 

Potential Cons

Gasoline internal combustion engine vehicles may be less expensive to run than HFCVs right now

Electric cars may have more energy efficient conversion compared to hydrogen cars

Lower energy conversion efficiency might make hydrogen cars more expensive to run

Fuel cells are currently expensive

Hydrogen may be the most expensive fuel right now

The cost of some materials used in hydrogen cars might be expensive 

Hydrogen cars might be more expensive to buy or lease in some locales compared to some other types of cars 

Hydrogen fuel may not be renewable or eco friendly right now

There’s differing reports on the wheel to wheel eco advantage of HFCVs

The number of hydrogen fill up stations might be currently be limited

Hydrogen fill up stations might be expensive to build and set up

Those who are the first to purchase earlier generation HFCVs may lose on re-sale price

There may be some potential risks/hazards in storing hydrogen, and using hydrogen fuel

Hydrogen storage might be be complex and challenging in some ways

Hydrogen might be more suitable as a fuel source right now for other types of transport other than passenger vehicles

HVs may not be good in all conditions and climates

There’s currently limited HV models to choose from

Infrastructure and technology may still have years of development left

May still take years to increase supply

Hydrogen supply might still be at a point where it can be easily interrupted in some ways at some locations

 

Other Potential Major Challenges For Hydrogen Cell Cars

We summarise some of the major challenges (a condensed list of the main ones) for hydrogen fuel cell cars at the bottom of this guide.

 

Overall

Overall, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles provide a different set of potential pros and cons to other types of vehicles.

One of the major pros might be the potential ability to provide cleaner fuel (in terms of the level of air pollutants and carbon emissions they produce), providing that the hydrogen production process can become cleaner and more sustainable. The process would also need to be scaled too.

One of the drawbacks of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, is that they are currently not used in the numbers on the road that conventional vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and full electric battery vehicles are.

 

*Note

The pros and cons mentioned in this guide are broad generalisations.

Each brand and model of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is obviously going to offer it’s own pros and cons, and each driver is going to have different requirements that impacts pros and cons.

There will continue to be different variables as technology changes and society changes.

Different countries and cities also have different energy mixes, and policies and regulations in places which may change the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in different places.

How the vehicle is operated may be another variable to consider.

So, pros and cons can be vehicle, driver and location specific.

 

Firstly, What Is A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle?

We explain what a hydrogen fuels cell vehicle is, & provide some comparisons to other types of vehicles like electric and hybrid vehicles in this separate guide.

 

Potential Pros Of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

Hydrogen Already Fuels Transport In Parts Of The US

California is one example.

 

In California, hydrogen already fuels a lot of transport with more than 8,800 hydrogen cars, hydrogen-powered buses and a retail network of refuelling stations (originenergy.com.au)

 

Hydrogen Fuel Can Be Eco Friendly In Some Ways During The Car’s Operation

Several reports indicate that the only by-products created from hydrogen cars while in operation are:

– Heat

– And water vapor (steam)

In comparison, conventional cars may produce carbon emissions and air pollutants through the car’s tailpipe, which is a result of the combustion of petroleum based products

 

This might make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles a more sustainable form of transport in some ways than conventional cars

 

HVs Might Be More Fuel Efficient During Operation Than Conventional Cars

Some hydrogen powered cars may have better fuel economy than some conventional cars, when measuring fuel conversion to vehicle propulsion.

One report gets more specific than that, and identifies what type of hydrogen fuel vehicle might have better fuel economy.

It mentions that the fuel economy specifically of vehicles using hydrogen in a fuel cell powering an electrified powertrain including a battery and an electric motor, may be better than a vehicle using a hydrogen combustion engine.

 

A document by californiahydrogen.org indicates that, when taking into account the amount of energy from gasoline and hydrogen gas each type of vehicle is able to convert into propelling the vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles might use less fuel:

‘[Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles might result in a]…  50% reduction in fuel consumption, compared to a conventional vehicle with a gasoline internal combustion engine’

 

wikipedia.org clarifies though that the type of hydrogen vehicle (fuel cell vs combustion engine) matters when it comes to fuel efficiency:

‘Using a fuel cell to power an electrified powertrain including a battery and an electric motor is two to three times more efficient than using a combustion engine, although some of this benefit is related to the electrified powertrain (and including regenerative braking) …’

 

HVs May Require Less Maintenance

Several things that may lead to HVs requiring less maintenance might be: 

– A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle potentially having less internal moving parts compared to combustion engines

– Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles might be lighter in weight than a full electric vehicle (which may have a heavy electric battery), and there may be less wear and tear on the vehicle

 

Another potential benefit of less maintenance, is having to spend money less regularly on things like repairs.

 

May Offer A Good Driving Experience In Some Ways

Similar to a full electric vehicle, some hydrogen powered vehicles may offer a quieter and smoother driving experience for drivers compared to driving some conventional cars

 

HVs May Have A Longer Driving Range Than Electric Vehicles

Driving range is the distance a vehicle can travel on one full tank or charge

Some reports indicate that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (filling up on hydrogen gas) may be able to travel anywhere from 2 to 4 times further than some full electric vehicles (that have been fully charged up)

But, this obviously it depends on the models of vehicles being compared.

 

Fuel Cells May Have Other Benefits

Beyond efficiency, wikipedia.org indicates they may be low noise and have a limited number of moving parts

 

Refuelling Hydrogen Cars May Be Relatively Quick In Some Instances

Some reports indicate pumping hydrogen into a tank in a hydrogen powered vehicle takes as long as pumping a tank in a conventional gasoline vehicle.

Both may compare favourably to charging a full electric vehicle’s battery, which can take hours. 

This obviously limits the convenience and practicality of the different types of vehicles.

EV’s with quick charge technology might take 20 to 40 minutes according to some reports, but this may not always result in a full charge – it may only result in a partial charge in some instances.

 

There May Be More HV Filling Stations Being Built Over Time

Governments (via initiatives) and auto manufacturers may be investing in some cities to build more hydrogen refuelling stations.

Whether this continues though, and to what extent, may be more uncertain without looking at confirmed investment projects.

 

In the United States, there are about 46 hydrogen vehicle fueling stations and nearly all are in California (eia.gov)

 

Hydrogen Is Abundant

Hydrogen is the most abundant element on planet Earth

So, scarcity may not be as much of an issue in some ways compared to other sources of energy

But, whether hydrogen used for fuel faces scarcity issues or not depends on the energy source it’s made from (as hydrogen relies on other energy sources to be produced)

 

Hydrogen Gas Can Be Renewable

Producing hydrogen gas from fossil fuel like methane/natural gas is generally non renewable

But, a more renewable way to produce hydrogen might be via the electrolysis of water

According to some reports, a few of the more renewable electrolysis methods to produce hydrogen might include:

– Biological water splitting (using sunlight and microorganisms)

– Pyrolysis or gasification of biomass resources

– And, solar thermal water splitting 

 

However, the feasibility and scale of production of these more renewable production methods might be limited in various ways.

 

May Help Build Or Increase Economic Independence In Some Countries

When using petroleum based fuels, countries that import a larger % of their oil become dependent (to an extent) on the countries they are importing from.

Hydrogen based fuel may in some ways help reduce this dependence on foreign oil if sourced and produced locally/domestically.

Again though, it depends what energy source the hydrogen comes from as to whether this might be the case.

 

There May Be Alternatives For Some Fuel Cell Materials 

A criticism of fuel cell materials might be whether some of the metals used to make them may encounter scarcity or supply issues in the future.

But, some reports indicate that tungsten carbide might be an alternative to platinum in hydrogen fuel cells 

It’s worth mentioning too though that alternative materials can have their own tradeoffs and limitations to consider.

 

There May Still Be Potential For Further Improvements To Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology

Some of those improvements might include things such as:

– Technology can still get cheaper (as it develops, and gets closer to economies of scale)

– Vehicles can generally improve, such as various aspects of performance, and overall how appealing the vehicles are to potential customers

 

Potential Cons Of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

Gasoline Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles May Be Cheaper To Run Right Now

‘Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles tend to be more expensive per mile than internal combustion vehicles running on gasoline at the moment …’ (energy.gov)

 

This places HFCVs at an economic disadvantage

 

Electric Cars May Have More Efficient Energy Conversion Compared To Hydrogen Cars

A certain amount of energy can be lost between when the energy is first generated, and when it eventually ends up in use in the car.

Hydrogen energy cars might end up with a lower % of their originally generated energy than electric cars.

This figure may be somewhere between 2 to 3 times less the original energy.

 

Paraphrasing from theconversation.com:

A hydrogen fuel cell car might maintain 38 of the original 100 watts of energy, once hydrogen gas production, hydrogen to electricity conversion, and the electricity use in the motor is taken into account.

Other reports say the entire process of electrolysis, transportation, pumping, and fuel cell conversion, leaves only about 20 to 25 percent of the original zero-carbon electricity to drive the motor.

Comparatively, a full electric car might maintain 80 of the original 100 watts.

 

Read more about the specifics of the above energy conversion efficiency data in the theconversation.com resource, found in the sources list at the bottom of this guide

 

Lower Energy Conversion Efficiency Might Make Hydrogen Cars More Expensive To Run

[Battery electric will probably always be cheaper to run than hydrogen vehicles because of their higher energy efficiency – potential savings of about $2000 a year] (theconversation.com)

 

Fuel Cells Are Currently Expensive

eia.gov outlines that the high cost of fuel cells is one of the major challenges for fuel cell vehicles

High costs might mean hydrogen fuel cell vehicles cannot be as economically competitive as other types of vehicles, both for producers, and also consumers

 

Hydrogen Is The Most Expensive Fuel Right Now

According to some reports, at the first retail stations, hydrogen fuel went for about $6 a gallon in the US, and this would make hydrogen the most expensive automotive fuel on the market.

arena.gov.au outlines that the cost of hydrogen production is similarly expensive in Australia.

So, it spans across different countries.

 

Some reports though indicate that the cost of fuel might come down in the future as investment in the fuel continues.

 

The Cost Of Some Materials Used In Hydrogen Cars Might Be Expensive Compared To Other Types Of Cars

Platinum is one of the most commonly used catalysts for fuel cells, and some reports indicate that platinum is very expensive per ounce as a commodity.

 

Buying & Leasing HVs May Be More Costly Than Other Car Types

Hydrogen vehicles might cost more in some locales compared to a gasoline or electric vehicle to either buy or lease.

 

Hydrogen Fuel May Not Be Renewable Or Eco Friendly Right Now

The most common method of hydrogen gas production right now is steam methane reforming from natural gas (some reports say about 95% of hydrogen gas production is done this way)

Fossil fuels like natural gas are classified as a scarce resource

Additionally, the production of pressurized hydrogen gas results in the emission of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide

This reliance on scarce resources and these emissions are considered potential sustainability issues

 

Some methods of producing hydrogen gas from pyrolysis could help make hydrogen gas production more renewable and eco friendly though.

This might especially be the case if renewable energy (like solar or wind) was used to provide the electricity for the pyrolysis process

 

There Are Differing Reports On The Wheel To Wheel Environmental Advantage Of Hydrogen Vehicles

Some reports say hydrogen sourced from natural gas is lower in emissions than electricity for full electric battery vehicles, and less than half of equivalent gasoline vehicle emissions.

But, other reports indicate that emission reductions aren’t significant due to GHG emissions from the natural gas reformation process.

When you add in the amount of energy hydrogen fuel might require, and the energy conversion efficiency of hydrogen, compared to full electric vehicles, there might be more accuracy behind the hydrogen fuel production process being heavier in emissions.

 

There Might Currently Be A Limited Number Of Hydrogen Refill Stations In Some Cities

Compared to fuel stations for conventional cars, there’s might be far fewer hydrogen fuel stations available in many cities.

In some cities, there may even be no hydrogen fuel stations.

As one example, one report indicates that there was less than 50 publicly available hydrogen refuelling stations in the United States in 2018.

 

eia.gov outlines that there’s a very important flow on effect of having a limited number of fill up stations

Ultimately, it limits the production of, and number of hydrogen-fueled vehicles because people won’t buy those vehicles if hydrogen refuelling stations are not easily accessible, and companies won’t build refuelling stations if they don’t have customers with hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

 

So, addressing this problem might need to be considered before hydrogen vehicles can scale up.

 

Hydrogen Fuel Stations & Infrastructure Are Not Cheap

The estimates on per station cost, and also per vehicle infrastructure cost, are not cheap.

Having said this, it would be interesting to get a comparison of these numbers to other vehicle types. 

 

Each station might cost about $2 million to $3 million according to various estimates

 

From cmu.edu:

… extensive hydrogen distribution infrastructure … required for refuelling automobiles … could easily cost as much as $5,000 per vehicle or more

 

First Buyers Of Hydrogen Cars May Lose Out In Some Aspects, Such As On Re-Sale Price

The buyers of earlier models of hydrogen cars may lose out on re-sale price.

If hydrogen vehicle technology changes a lot over the coming years and decades, having an outdated or inferior technology car may mean their re-sale price drops.

 

Storing Hydrogen, & Using Hydrogen Fuel May Have Some Risks & Hazards

According to various reports, some of the risk and hazards of hydrogen fuel might relate to using and storing it in vehicles, and might involve:

– It may be at risk of explosion during different stages of storage, transport or at hydrogen stations if it’s exposed to air

– It may have low ignition energy, and also high combustion energy (which may be an issue if it ignites)

– It may produce invisible flames in the event of a crash

– In some instances, it may leak easier from tanks

 

Hydrogen Storage May Have Some Complexities & Challenges

After production, hydrogen needs to be stored for transport, stored at fuel stations, and also stored in vehicle fuel tanks.

The requirements of storing hydrogen may bring with them some challenges.

To store hydrogen compactly, there may be certain requirements around the pressure and temperature it’s stored at, as well as chemical processes.

Liquid hydrogen and gas hydrogen may have slightly different storage requirements, but, compressed hydrogen gas used in cars might generally require high pressure tanks, and low temperatures.

For consumer passenger cars in particular, overcoming storage challenges can be difficult because these cars may have limited size and weight capacity for fuel storage.

 

wikipedia.org outlines that: ‘The problems of using hydrogen fuel in cars arise from the fact that hydrogen is difficult to store in either a high pressure tank or a cryogenic tank … [but] Alternative storage media such as within complex metal hydrides are in development [to address this]’

 

So, even though there are challenges, there may be alternative solutions being developed.

 

Hydrogen Might Be More Suitable As A Fuel Source Right Now For Other Types Of Transport Other Than Passenger Vehicles

From cmu.edu: [It’s probably even better to introduce hydrogen as a fuel source to ships, trains and large trucks before passenger vehicles like small to medium cars]

 

Hydrogen Cars May Not Perform Well In All Conditions & Climates

The performance of hydrogen-powered cars may have limitations in different climates, and also weather conditions.

Some of the reasons for this might be that:

– The water in the fuel cells might freeze when temperatures hit below freezing point

– The fuel cell components run the risk of overheating in hot conditions

 

Conventional cars may not have the same limitations, and therefore may have more flexibility across more climates and weather conditions and environments.

 

There May Be A Limited Choice Of Vehicles Right Now (Compared To Other Types Of Vehicles)

There are not as many hydrogen vehicle brands and models to choose from right now as there are conventional car models.

This limits choice for consumers.

 

Development Of Infrastructure and Technology May Still Take Many More Years

For example, it may take more years to:

– Perfect fuel cells’ conversion solutions, since developing newer fuel cell technologies are still in the transition period

– And also, to develop supporting infrastructure for fuel cells and fuel cell vehicles

 

It May Still Take Years To Increase Supply

Increasing supply to meaningful levels for hydrogen vehicles to make an impact in society may also be years away.

 

Hydrogen Supply Might Still Be At A Stage Where It Can Be Easily Interrupted In Some Locations  

wikipedia.org outlines one potential hydrogen supply interruption issue:

Hydrogen fuelling stations generally receive deliveries of hydrogen by truck from hydrogen suppliers.

An interruption at a hydrogen supply facility can shut down multiple hydrogen fuelling stations 

 

Main Challenges For Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Going Into The Future

Some of the major challenges and barriers to greater production and use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are (paraphrased from range of reports from eia.gov, autoevolution.com, fuelcellcars.com, thoughtco.com and rac.co.uk):

– The high cost of fuel cells

 

– The cost of materials used in hydrogen fuel cell cars

 

– The cost of building new infrastructure

 

– The limited availability of hydrogen fuelling stations

This has a two fold effect in that people won’t buy vehicles that don’t have fuelling stations available and companies won’t build fuelling stations without customers for them

 

– Extracting hydrogen gas from methane has an environmental impact as it generates CO2 and carbon monoxide

 

Our own summary of the challenges above:

These challenges and barriers also mean there isn’t large scale manufacturing/production of hydrogen gas at the moment.

There’s also question of the fuel energy efficiency of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles compared to full electric vehicles.

These issues could start being addressed with higher volumes of new customers for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, along with government subsidies and support (which could stimulate demand and development).

Like the development of electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may get more advanced over time (as technology gets better and other developments are made). 

But, it’s unclear how many years developments and improvements in hydrogen fuel cell technology will take to help scale up use.

 

More About Hydrogen Energy

In this guide, we explain the general pros and cons of hydrogen energy, and in this guide we outline what hydrogen energy is, and it’s full range of uses.

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.autoevolution.com/news/six-problems-with-electric-cars-that-nobody-talks-about-112221.html

2. http://www.automotivetechnologies.com/hydrogen-fuel-cell-cars

3. http://www.fuelcellcars.com/hydrogen-cars-pros-and-cons/

4. https://greengarageblog.org/26-significant-pros-and-cons-of-hydrogen-fuel-cells

5. https://ams-composites.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-hydrogen-fuel-cells/

6. https://www.thoughtco.com/is-hydrogen-the-fuel-of-the-future-1203801

7. https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/buying-and-selling-guides/hydrogen-cars/

8. https://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/hybrid-electric/a22688627/hydrogen-fuel-cell-cars/

9. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/hydrogen/use-of-hydrogen.php

10. https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/electric-vehicles/how-do-hydrogen-fuel-cells-work#.W-7QmJMzbR0

11. https://www.explainthatstuff.com/fuelcells.html

12. https://www.californiahydrogen.org/wp-content/uploads/files/doe_fuelcell_factsheet.pdf

13. https://theconversation.com/hydrogen-cars-wont-overtake-electric-vehicles-because-theyre-hampered-by-the-laws-of-science-139899

14. https://arena.gov.au/blog/australias-pathway-to-2-per-kg-hydrogen/

15. http://theconversation.com/why-battery-powered-vehicles-stack-up-better-than-hydrogen-106844

16. https://www.cmu.edu/cmnews/030905/030905_hydrogenfuel.html

17. https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/hydrogen-clean-flexible-energy-carrier

1 thought on “Pros & Cons Of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars (Advantages & Disadvantages)”

  1. I believe hydrogen has the best fundamentals to be the best long term answer to vehical emissions, global warming. My focus would be technology development of fuel source changeover infrastructure.

    Reply

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