Curious about the science behind hydrogen cars? Keep reading.
How Does a Hydrogen Car Work?
When it comes to hydrogen cars, you could either have two different sources of power; a hydrogen internal combustion engine or hydrogen fuel cells. The hydrogen internal combustion engine is designed similar to a gasoline engine, except that it burns hydrogen instead of gasoline.
On the other hand, a hydrogen fuel cell is used to convert chemical energy into electricity to propel your motor. For this to happen, hydrogen gas is released from its tank to the fuel cell where it’s mixed with oxygen to create a chemical reaction that causes electrons to generate electricity.
Technically, a hydrogen car could be an electric vehicle but instead of running on batteries, they are designed with fuel cell power plants that generate their own electricity; that’s why they’re called fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEV. Similarly, you have the option to choose a hydrogen internal combustion vehicle; otherwise known as a HICEV. Learn more about how electric vehicles work if you’re not familiar.
What Are the Benefits of Hydrogen Fuel Cars?
Hydrogen vehicles that rely on fuel cells or internal combustion produce water vapor as an exhaust product with no traces of carbon dioxide. In other words, hydrogen vehicles are environmentally friendly just like electric vehicles.
Beyond that, a hydrogen car doesn’t need to be charged like a battery-electric vehicle; you can refuel it in less than five minutes. In fact, most hydrogen cars can easily cover a distance of up to 300 miles on a full tank.
Since hydrogen cars with fuel cells generate their own electricity while driving, they don’t need big batteries. In most cases, a small 30kW battery is more than enough to store electricity. Not to mention, most hydrogen vehicles with fuel cells have a lifespan of 5,000 to 10,000 hours; this is the equivalent of 150,000 to 300,000 miles.
Of course, if you’re driving a fuel cell electric vehicle, the engine will be as quiet as a mouse.
Why Are Hydrogen Cars Not Yet Mainstream?
According to TWI Global, Hydrogen cars are more expensive to produce than battery electric vehicles. Because of that, most car manufacturers are not willing to take the gamble and produce hydrogen cars on a massive scale.
Even if you can afford a hydrogen car, where would you refuel it? There is simply not enough infrastructure to support hydrogen vehicles at the moment. As per the Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC), 48 hydrogen refueling stations are open to the public in the United States; 47 of those refueling stations are in California. If you’re in Canada, there are only seven publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations (according to GLP Autogas).
There is also the question of the energy efficiency of hydrogen; it takes a lot of resources that usually involve the burning of fossil fuels to harness pure hydrogen gas from methane or water.
But what if you use solar-based electricity to harvest hydrogen without fossil fuels? Yes, it can be done, but according to a research done by The Conversation, it would be more energy-efficient if you charge battery EVs directly rather than using electricity to produce hydrogen gas just to generate electricity again through fuel cells.
For the hydrogen gas that is available at fuel stations, you would pay more for it than gasoline or electricity; unless there is a global fuel shortage that has caused the price of gasoline to skyrocket. In fact, hydrogen contains more energy per unit volume than gasoline; this means that you will probably visit a hydrogen refuel station more often.
Last but not least, hydrogen gas is highly volatile and flammable which makes it difficult to store. For that reason, hydrogen gas tanks must be tough and crash-tested under extreme conditions before approval. Also, hydrogen power plants are usually built close to refueling centers since long-distance transportation poses safety risks.
Which Hydrogen Cars Are Available for Consumers?
According to Motor1, only 41,700 hydrogen cars have been sold worldwide since 2011. The only hydrogen cars currently in production are the Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai. Other notable hydrogen vehicles that were manufactured but discontinued include Honda Clarity and Hyundai Tucson FCEV.
The Hyundai Nexo is a fuel cell electric SUV vehicle that runs on hydrogen; it has a range of between 354 miles to 380 miles. Its starting price in North America is about $59,000 for the Blue trim and about $62,000 for the Limited trim.
Similar to the Hyundai Nexo, the Toyota Mirai is a hydrogen fuel cell mid-size sedan vehicle. On a full tank, the Toyota Mirai has an estimated range of between 357 miles (limited trim) to 402 miles (XLE trim). Its starting price in North America is $49,500 for the XLE trim and $66,000 for the Limited trim.
Both the Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai are eligible for the federal tax incentive of $7,500 in the United States; if you buy a hydrogen car in California, you get an additional tax rebate of $4,500.
It’s also worth mentioning that both the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo come with a zero-interest financing option and free fuel refilling at any hydrogen station of up to $15,000. It doesn’t get better than this! Alternatively, you can consider battery-electric vehicle options with zero emissions.
Could Your Next Car Run on Hydrogen?
Truth be told, we have a long way to go before hydrogen cars become a common sight on the road. Of course, until hydrogen refueling stations start to pop up everywhere and harnessing hydrogen becomes economically viable, most people will be skeptical about hydrogen cars.
However, you can still buy a hydrogen car right now if you want. The problem is, finding a hydrogen refuel station could be a difficult challenge.
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