Is there a role for hydrogen in the fuels of the future?

by | Feb 15, 2016

For the last five years at Zero Carbon Futures, we’ve been focusing on the role of electric vehicles to prompt the steady transition away from the Internal Combustion Engine. Battery technology is certainly the technology that is currently catalysing that change.

However, I would argue that it is not quite the finished product. The range of the vehicles on the market now is currently good but not just good enough. I have driven 20,000 miles in my EV so I can speak from experience when I say that we need bigger batteries and faster charging. What I really want is a 150 mile range with around a 10 min charging, ideally with a cost of ownership the same as an ICE vehicle.

We know that we’re going to get there. Larger capacity batteries are coming. Faster charging technology will be here in the next 5 years or so. The role of all of us, including government, is to support these goals and carry on investing in battery and charging technology.

So what is distracting us?

Before we have truly embedded what is acknowledged as a potential winning technology, we are already trying to move on to largely problematic technology. That current technology distraction, I think, is Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV). I honestly don’t see a place for hydrogen vehicles in the passenger car market. This technology might be viable for certain class of vehicles, but not I would argue, for passenger/family size vehicles. Yes they are coming out of Japan and Korea, but in tiny numbers and they are very expensive.

To me there are a number of fundamental problems with FCV which have to be overcome:

  1. Purity and cost of the hydrogen fuel;
  2. Reliability of the fuel cell has to be proven;
  3. Lack of fuel stations;
  4. Transport of the hydrogen;
  5. Storage of the hydrogen; and
  6. Business case

Let’s take them in order.

(1) We know that purity is available at point of production, but the cost is just still too high for passenger cars.

(2) reliability will come with time but needs significant testing and investment.

(3) fuel stations may be available but they are prohibitively expensive with no business case.

(4) transportation of hydrogen is a very big problem and nobody has come up with a viable answer for large volume transportation.

(5) storage at point of delivery is technically feasible but at what cost?

Which leads us to the final point which is (6). The cost of solving points (1) to (5) compared to adopting EV with ranges of over 150 miles with 10 minute charging is what kills the idea of FCV for family cars for me.

I’m interested to know what others think, will the day come when hydrogen is ready for the passenger car market?

Zero Carbon Futures is an electric vehicle consultancy which manages and delivers projects which help towns and cities increase EV uptake.




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