The whole world is talking about electric cars, but hydrogen cars stand aside. And even though they have a greater range and hydrogen can be well refueled and stored. But the situation is slowly changing: London police are starting to ride in the hydrogen Mirai and Parisian taxi drivers are getting used to the same fuel cell cars instead of tanks. So far they have a hundred; by the end of the year, there should be an additional 500. For smog-troubled cities, similar cars would mean relief – where they ride, and there is no exhalation — just water and steam.
“Hydrogen technology in transport is groundbreaking and cannot be rushed. We are waking up to a new era compared to the last more than a hundred years of the habit of burning gasoline or diesel.” Technically, however, hydrogen mobility is not lagging behind battery electric vehicles. “It is evolving in parallel, and it is only a matter of time and choice of users when both hydrogen and batteries will have a firm place in the image of the mobility of the future,” he says. Toyota is one of the pioneers of hydrogen use and also produces the first Mirai fuel cell series car.
The onset of fuel cells
Hydrogen cars are electric cars, only the lithium battery recharged from the mains is replaced by a fuel cell in which hydrogen combines with oxygen to form an electrical current, which then spins the electric motors. In theory, hydrogen can be directly combusted in a conventional piston engine. However, due to the low efficiency of the automakers do not consider this way.
However, safety concerns are associated with hydrogen because this gas is highly explosive and flammable. “But the Toyota Mirai is as safe as any other car. In extreme stress tests, our model has gone through all variants of possible and impossible collisions and impacts, including a firearm test, in 10 years.” Compared to gasoline, hydrogen, if it escapes from a pressure vessel, has one advantage – it is light, so it disperses in the atmosphere.
The slower onset of hydrogen propulsion is due to the fact that petrol and diesel engines have existed since the late 19th century, as well as the first battery electric vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cells, on the other hand, began to be used only in the 1960s and remained long complex and expensive. Their use in space has been brought to the attention of the public. They supplied electricity and water in the Apollo spacecraft heading for the moon. However, large automakers noticed them at the turn of the 80s and 90s. The first series-produced hydrogen car was finally introduced by the Korean car manufacturer Hyundai after dealing with the low fuel cell life.
They will now last five thousand operating hours, which means at least 250 thousand kilometers. “This is a better result than electric car batteries. The advantage is that fuel cells are less maintenance-intensive and do not need to be recharged,” he added.
The passenger car has a tank of five kilograms of compressed hydrogen. The biggest advantage over competing for electric vehicles is roughly double the range, which is around 600 kilometers. Engineers are now trying to increase the range to more than a thousand kilometers.
Refueling does not take more than three minutes and is no different from refueling gasoline or diesel. Filling infrastructure is a prerequisite and requires additional costs to build. A California Energy Commission investigation shows that the cost of building one station in the US ranges from one to three million dollars.
Fuel cell cars will not ensure a zero carbon footprint yet. About 95 percent of hydrogen is produced from natural gas – the cheapest method. The disadvantage, however, is that this chemical reaction also generates a lot of carbon dioxide. However, hydrogen can also be produced by the pure electrical decomposition of water. So far, it is only four percent, but it is a chance for the future. If electricity from nuclear sources or energy from the sun and wind is used for electrolysis, it becomes emission-free fuel.
The driving force of European hydrogen transport in Germany. The state has already invested 1.4 billion euros in its development, and in 2025 there should be 350 to 400 gas stations in the country. However, the original ideas were more generous: already in the 1990s, a number of large companies were expecting a rapid expansion of hydrogen in transport, but then the business had to revisit its plans. Turnover to hydrogen again occurred in 2002 after the launch of a supportive government program.
In France, they rely on selected regions where hydrogen-assisted energy, industrial, and transport technologies are interlinked with state assistance. In Italy, a project is underway, ending with a thousand fuel-cell buses and support for buses and trucks in the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries.
However, Asia is likely to become the center of hydrogen transport: China, South Korea, and Japan. There, according to governmental ideas, by 2030, 800,000 vehicles should run on hydrogen. The Toyota, as mentioned earlier, wants 300 hydrogen buses to operate at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, is breaking through. In addition, fuel cells are being sold in Japan to produce heat and electricity in buildings, which have already sold 200,000.
The corporate world is also interested in hydrogen transport. So far, Toyota sold 10,000 hydrogen cars last year, Japan and the US are the key markets, with 600 cars sold in Europe. This year he plans to produce and sell 20,000 Mirai cars. “20 years ago, when Toyota introduced hybrid technology, some also said it would never succeed. Since then, we have sold more than 15 million Toyota and Lexus hybrids around the world,” he said.
More than from passenger cars, hydrogen mobility promoters have so far hoped to transport people and trucks in bulk. That is, where more power is needed and sufficient range. And where it is possible to reduce the cost of infrastructure by, for example, city buses refuel in one station. Hydrogen buses have been manufactured by Van Hool and Daimler in Germany. The Alfa Truck from Toyota transports up to 36 tonnes of cargo per 300 kilometers per refueling. Scania is testing a truck that would travel 500 kilometers, and in the USA, hydrogen tractors are manufactured by Nikola Motor Company. Fuel cells powered by forklifts also travel to the Atlantic, at Walmart and Coca-Cola. Alstom and Siemens want to use hydrogen to drive the locomotives. The oceans are already cruising the Energy Observer to prove the functionality of the new propulsion on the water.
How could the state support hydrogen transport? According to a study by Grant Thornton Advisory and the Ministry of Transport, in addition to subsidies and tax advantages for a Japanese-model car, hydrogen cars have the option of using bus lanes for urban driving, with reduced parking rates. Or that their owners do not pay road tax and vignettes. As a temporary measure, such aid will be phased out as soon as the price of the hydrogen wagon is reduced. The cost of running a hydrogen car is already comparable to conventional cars – but the price of hydrogen, EUR 10 per kilogram, which can cover about 100 kilometers, should fall.
However, these are also acquisition costs. “The goal is to make hydrogen cars available at the same price as hybrids within ten years. They’re not just rich cars”.Cheap electric car charging is just a decoy.