Electric cars

Hydrogen Fuel Cell vs Battery Electric Cars: Pros, Cons and Future Potential Explained

In the race to phase out fossil-fuel cars, automakers and governments are constantly evaluating alternative energy sources. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – or EVs that have no power source other than a battery – are the cars of the future. But hydrogen fuel cells offer an equally environmentally friendly solution without any harmful emissions. In fact, some Indian states have included hydrogen development in their EV and T policies.ransport Minister Nitin Gadkari has resigned a pilot project studying FCEVs.

What is a fuel cell vehicle?


A fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is an electric vehicle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen, stored in a sealed tank, is the “fuel” that the fuel cell uses to produce energy from the reaction between hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen in the air. The energy released is stored in a battery whose capacity is much smaller than an EV battery, and the only by-product is clean water.

What are the advantages of FCEVs over EVs?

FCEVs solve a major problem with EVs: you can refuel them in minutes. Electric vehicles take much longer to charge, even when charging at the maximum possible charge rate on a public fast charger.

For example, charging an electric vehicle at a public charging station can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, but filling up with hydrogen takes almost the same time as stopping off gas or CNG: about three minutes .

Toyota Mirai

Tesla Model S

Loading time

About 3 minutes (estimated, 70MPa pressure provided)

About 30 minutes (250kW DC Supercharger)

Vary

646 km (EPA estimate)

651 km (EPA estimate)

Unloaded weight

1,917kg

2069kg

Besides refueling time, FCEVs can be made lighter than electric cars while still offering similar range outputs. A Mirai only needs a 1.24 kWh battery and 5.6 kg of hydrogen to achieve the same range as a Model S. The Tesla has a much larger 100 kWh battery that weighs around more than ten times that of the Mirai.

Do hydrogen cars pollute less than electric cars?

On its own, an FCEV produces no emissions other than water which can be expelled as vapor or stored separately. But to really understand a car’s carbon footprint, you also need to look at how alternative fuels such as hydrogen are generated/supplied.

There are three types of hydrogen gas you can use to fuel an FCEV: gray, blue, and green.

Gray hydrogen is made from natural gas and produces carbon dioxide emissions. It constitutes the overwhelming majority (about 95%) of the H2 gas produced in the world. Blue hydrogen is also made from non-renewable resources in processes that release relatively less carbon dioxide to the environment. The cleanest is green hydrogen, or hydrogen made from renewable sources with little or no carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

In India, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari cited sewage as one of the potential sources of hydrogen. Hydrogen from wastewater could potentially provide an incentive to expand the sewer system and encourage wastewater treatment across the country.

Hydrogen is usually produced in small quantities from wastewater treatment, so it is unlikely to overtake gray hydrogen in India any time soon. Similarly, the majority of the country’s electricity generation comes from coal or natural gas turbines.

According to reports, the lifetime carbon footprint of BEVs is comparable to that of FCEVs, around 120g per km. Nevertheless, even in the Indian context, studies have indicated that FCEVs and BEVs produce lower lifetime emissions than ICE vehicles (petrol and diesel).

Why aren’t hydrogen fuel cell cars popular yet?

In countries where FCEVs are offered, they only occupy a small percentage of total vehicle sales. Data from SNE Research shows that fewer than 20,000 FCEVs were sold globally in 2021. By comparison, global BEV sales amounted to almost half a crore of vehicles.

There are several reasons for this disparity, mainly the availability of fuel, the cost of purchase and the cost of refueling. Public electric vehicle charging stations have been popping up around the world in recent years, but hydrogen filling stations are rare, even in countries with high EV adoption rates. For example, the UK had nearly 26,000 public electric vehicle charging stations by 2021 (4,551 fast chargers), but hydrogen filling stations currently stand at 14.

Only two models are currently in production: the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo. In the United States, the Mirai retails between the equivalent of Rs 38 lakh to Rs 50 lakh, while the Nexo SUV starts at around Rs 45 lakh. In comparison, the choice of electric vehicles is in the triple digits and offers a lot of value at a lower price. The Tesla Model 3 gives you the acceleration of a decently fast sedan for the equivalent of Rs 31 lakh.

The price gap is likely to be much wider in India, where an entry-level Tigor EV can be had for Rs 12 lakh (ex-showroom). Since the Mirai is exclusively produced in Japan, its price as a fully built unit (CBU) will likely exceed Rs 60 lakh, more than five times more than the Tata electric sedan. Even a relatively high-end electric vehicle such as the Hyundai Kona is priced at Rs 23.98 lakh (ex-showroom).

As for refueling, hydrogen can cost from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 per kg in countries like UK and US. Therefore, it costs between Rs 5,600 and Rs 8,400 to fill the 5.6 kg tank of the Mirai. That’s still significantly more expensive than filling up with petrol or diesel for similar range per tank in a comparable model. Of course, H2 prices would drop as its supply improves to meet growing demand. For example, a hydrogen fuel company in Norway aims to reduce the cost of producing green hydrogen to around 100 rupees per kg by 2025.

Storing hydrogen is expensive and transporting it adds carbon dioxide to the environment. For any country, setting up, operating and expanding the hydrogen fuel network can be costly. On the other hand, a large and extensive power grid already exists to recharge the BEVs.

Lack of choice in the market, high costs and scarcity of infrastructure are the main causes of low FCEV adoption rates around the world. Despite these challenges, sales of hydrogen cars nearly doubled between 2020 and 2021.

Who else besides Toyota offers FCEVs?

Apart from Toyota, only one other mainstream automaker offers a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle: Hyundai. The Hyundai Nexo SUV is the first FCEV on the global market. It makes 161PS and 394Nm, and offers a range of up to 611km on a single tank of hydrogen. These are the two brands that have not been 100% committed to the BEV road for green mobility as they have their own share of drawbacks.

Additionally, BMW has developed a hydrogen powertrain which is being tested in the iX5 Hydrogen SUV. The iX5, essentially a modified X5 SUV with a fuel cell electric drivetrain, is currently undergoing winter testing in Sweden.

Does Tesla offer a hydrogen vehicle?

The American manufacturer of electric vehicles does not yet offer hydrogen vehicles. Its CEO is also not in favor of gaseous fuel, as evidenced by the tweet below:

Are hydrogen FCEVs safer than regular electric vehicles?

Hydrogen is a flammable gas stored at high pressure in the fuel tank of an FCEV. Even so, the reaction within the fuel cell itself does not burn hydrogen, but instead uses a steady stream of low-pressure gas to create electricity. According to Hyundai, the safety of a hydrogen car is comparable to that of modern CNG vehicles. Even a fire hazard in an accident is low, as any leak will cause the gas to immediately vaporize and escape into the atmosphere.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that FCEVs are unlikely to be the mainstream alternative to combustion engines like electric vehicles anytime soon. They will certainly add some diversity to the green car market, and their arrival is likely to help the H2 infrastructure grow in the country. It also remains to be seen how the government will choose to incentivize or promote these vehicles once they are given the green light. For now, we will have to wait for the conclusion of the pilot study to find out if or when hydrogen cars will be headed to India.