The demand for clean power sources in vehicle-related technology is increasing daily due to harmful effects caused by toxic emissions from internal combustion engines. Technologies used in existing eco-friendly vehicles are evolving with time. This article will discuss electric and hydrogen vehicles, their types, comparison between hydrogen and electric vehicles, recent studies, prospects, and whether hydrogen vehicles will replace electric cars.
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What are Hydrogen Vehicles?
Vehicles of different kinds that run on hydrogen fuel are collectively referred to as hydrogen vehicles. These automobiles could use internal combustion engines, gas turbine engines, or hydrogen fuel cells as propulsion systems.
Two types of hydrogen-powered engines are generally used: a conventional internal combustion engine, where hydrogen gas is used instead of gasoline or natural gas, and another using hydrogen fuel cells.
Similar to gasoline stations, hydrogen vehicles have hydrogen fueling stations. Steam-methane reforming is a process for producing hydrogen gas that is then stored in hydrogen fueling stations.
What are Electric Cars?
An electric vehicle is powered by an electric motor using electrical energy instead of an internal combustion engine and does not have a fuel tank.
Electric cars dependent on batteries for power are categorized as battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). There are other similar technologies, such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
Types of Hydrogen Vehicles
Using conventional IC engine
Engineering solutions aim to optimize the combustion of a hydrogen-air mixture, develop a power supply system, and reduce explosion hazards. This concept has not been widely adopted.
Using fuel cells
The fuel cell hydrogen vehicle is fundamentally similar to an electric vehicle. The difference is that in traditional electric vehicles, the battery is charged from external sources, while in a hydrogen car, electricity is continuously drawn from fuel cells.
Hydrogen engines have two chambers (for anode and cathode) separated by a membrane coated with rare earth metals acting as a catalyst.
As a result of the hydrolysis reaction, the hydrogen in the anode chamber, combined with oxygen from the atmospheric air in the cathode, turns into water vapor.
The process is accompanied by the release of free electrons, which enter the car's electrical network, providing power.
Most hydrogen cars use fuel cell technology called fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).
How Hydrogen Cars Compare with Battery-Electric Vehicles (BEVs)
Battery-electric vehicles have the significant advantage of building on an already extensive electric grid infrastructure, which means that virtually every electric outlet in the world can function as a charging station.
On the other hand, fuel cell electric vehicles face the challenge of developing an entirely new infrastructure from the ground up.
For battery-electric vehicles, developing more traditional fast-charging stations is the sole barrier. Although this is not a trivial problem, it is considerably simpler than building a new industry for hydrogen manufacturing, transportation, storage, and distribution.
Moreover, the power is stored in the batteries in hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. Therefore, there are many similarities between the two. If battery-electric vehicles are criticized for the limitations and drawbacks of battery-powered systems, the same criticism is also applied to hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.
The Technology Preferred by Automobile Manufacturers
The automotive sector has not reached a consensus on how to eliminate vehicle emissions. Most manufacturers prefer battery-electric vehicles, but a select minority have persisted in attempting to make fuel cell hydrogen powertrains function successfully.
Toyota, Hyundai, and General Motors have shown the most reluctance to abandon hydrogen technology, which can achieve zero-emission travel but is far less efficient than BEVs.
Fuel cell electric vehicles have been relatively unsuccessful in prompting a public response. The infrastructure seems to be the primary obstacle; despite fuel cells, electric vehicles have a substantially lower overall efficiency over their whole energy cycle.
Most overnight charging for electric cars occurs in the driver's house, although this is not the case with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Even if fuel cell electric vehicles still had a shot at the commercial truck market, recent research has cast doubt on their viability.
Future of Hydrogen Vehicles
A recent study published in January 2022 by Nature Electronics suggests that fuel cell electric vehicle technology will not play a major role in sustainable road transport in the future.
Although certain manufacturers claim they will have fuel cell electric vehicles available in the next few years, the industry has gradually shifted toward battery-electric vehicles.
According to the research findings, due to recent developments in battery technology and the new megawatt charging standard for battery-electric trucks, the next generation of electric trucks is anticipated to surpass fuel cell hydrogen cars in terms of market share.
References and Further Reading
Lambert, F. (2022) Study confirms what common sense has made clear for years: Hydrogen fuel cells cannot catch up to battery-electric vehicles. [online] Electrek. Available at: https://electrek.co/2022/02/15/study-hydrogen-fuel-cells-cannot-catch-up-battery-electric-vehicles/ [Accessed 22 July 2022].
Plötz, P. (2022) Hydrogen technology is unlikely to play a major role in sustainable road transport. Nature Electronics, 5(1), 8-10. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41928-021-00706-6
Wilberforce, T., El-Hassan, Z., Khatib, F. N., Al Makky, A., Baroutaji, A., Carton, J. G., & Olabi, A. G. (2017) Developments of electric cars and fuel cell hydrogen electric cars. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 42(40), 25695-25734. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S036031991732791X