There is a growing awareness among vehicle owners about the need for automobiles that do not have a significant impact on the environment. While electric cars have been making a huge buzz in the automotive industry, there is another, earlier automotive technology that has the same aim as battery electric vehicles. These are the hydrogen fuel cell cars. If you are not familiar with these vehicles, here are 10 things you should know about them.
They Run on Hydrogen
These vehicles run on hydrogen. It is an element that you can find anywhere in the known universe. More than three-quarters of all things contain hydrogen. It is also the lightest and smallest atom in the periodic table of the elements. It consists of a proton and an electron.
Hydrogen powered cars have tanks that contain compressed hydrogen. It is a lot similar to the fuel tank that we have in ordinary vehicles. These cars also have fuel cells that serve to split the hydrogen atom. It removes the electron and passes this to the electric motor of the vehicle. After all, electricity is often defined as the flow of electrons. The electric motor is like the combustion engine of gasoline- or diesel-powered automobiles. It produces the force needed to run or operate the vehicle.
So, what is a hydrogen fuel cell? You can consider this as the power plant of the HFCV. It produces electricity that will go to the electric motor. A single fuel cell converts potential energy from hydrogen atoms into electrical energy. Unfortunately, a single fuel cell is often not enough to generate the right amount of electricity to run the motor. Vehicle manufacturers have to bind many fuel cells together. This fuel cell stack provides power to both the electric motor and the vehicle’s auxiliary electronics.
They Produce Water as a Byproduct
As mentioned, the hydrogen fuel cell splits the hydrogen atom into two charged particles: an electron and a proton. The electron goes to the electric motor to power the vehicle. The proton remains in the fuel cell where it interacts with oxygen.
We know from elementary chemistry that the reaction between two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom can result in the formation of water. Both the cleaving of the hydrogen atom and its combination with oxygen will generate heat. This can increase the temperature of water, allowing it to turn into steam.
It is for this reason that you will always see steam from the exhaust tailpipes of hydrogen fuel cell cars. This is also what makes these vehicles more environment-friendly. They do not release harmful exhaust gases into the environment.
They Have a Better Range than Battery Electric Vehicles
People lament that electric vehicles cannot compare to gasoline-powered automobiles when it comes to range. Most battery-powered electric vehicles can only muster about 150 miles with a single full charge. The only exception is that of Tesla’s Model S Long Range, which can go for about 375 miles before needing a recharge.
On the other hand, hydrogen powered vehicles can reach more than 400 miles on a single refill of compressed hydrogen. This makes HFCVs a better alternative for those who want to travel farther than any other electric vehicle can go.
They are Not True Zero-Emissions Vehicles
While it is true that hydrogen fuel cell cars do not emit dangerous gases into the atmosphere, they are not true zero-emissions vehicles. There is no issue about the byproducts of power-generation. Heat and water are not the kind of elements that will harm the environment. The main problem is the source of the fuel.
Indeed, hydrogen is the most abundant element in our universe. However, the process of turning it from a gaseous state to a liquid state requires tremendous amounts of energy. It is also very light. Producers will have to use more energy to create compressed hydrogen. On the average, manufacturers have to compress hydrogen to 10,000 PSI.
In the US, manufacturers of hydrogen for HFCVs reform natural gas to obtain the hydrogen atoms. The manufacturing process will still rely on power coming from conventional electric stations.
There are also hydrogen fueling stations that have electrolysis equipment. They use this equipment to separate hydrogen atoms from water. Again, the power that these equipment uses come from the electric power grid.
HFCVs may not produce pollution at their exhaust pipes. However, the process of making the hydrogen can still have an impact on the environment.
They are Expensive
Hydrogen powered cars are more expensive than your traditional combustion engine vehicle. You can get the latest Toyota Camry for about $25,000 as base. If you buy the 2020 Camry TRD, you will be spending about $31,000 brand new.
On the other hand, a Toyota Mirai can set you back for about $57,500. That is more than twice the price of the more luxurious Camry. You might say that these cars have a different niche. The Mirai looks more like a sports car that relies on hydrogen power. If we are to compare it with another Toyota sports car that looks a lot like the Mirai, the hydrogen powered vehicle will still be more expensive. The Toyota 86 comes with a base price of $26,650 all the way to $32,470.
The Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell is even more expensive at about $76,000. It is a compact SUV that is almost similar to the Hyundai Tucson. The Tucson has a base price of $23,350.
The cheapest hydrogen powered vehicle so far is the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. With a price tag of $34,295, it is about the same price as the top-of-the-line Honda Accord with the Touring trim.
The Cost of Hydrogen Fuel is Higher
Not only is the vehicle itself more expensive to buy outright. Hydrogen fuel cost is also more expensive than conventional fuel, like gasoline and diesel. Refilling stations sell hydrogen fuel by the kilogram. The ongoing rate can be as low as $12.85 to as high as $16.85 per kilogram. Gasoline prices, on the other hand, are within $0.06 to $2.50.
Two hundred kilograms of hydrogen will allow the Mirai to go for 13,000 miles. If the hydrogen fuel price is a friendly $12.00, you will be spending about $2,400 to travel 13,000 miles. An ordinary car that has a fuel economy of 28 MPG can travel 5,600 miles with 200 gallons of gasoline. At a price of $2.50 per gallon, you will be spending $500 for the 5.600 miles. You will be spending $1,160.71 if you decide to also travel 13,000 miles. It is still $1,239.29 cheaper than using hydrogen fuel.
They are Almost Silent
One of the best things about hydrogen powered vehicles is that they are very quiet. You will still hear some noise when driving. However, this will only come from the sound of rubber maintaining contact with the road.
Since these cars do not have a combustion engine, they do not have mechanical parts that can produce loud noises. If you are inside the vehicle, you will not hear any rumble from the hood. If you pull over a busy road, you might not even hear the electric motor. The only time you will hear the electric motor working is when you park your car in a quiet neighborhood.
They Do Not Rev
Drivers of performance cars always talk about the awesome power of revving the engine. The characteristic roar of V8s and V12s as one steps on the gas is like music to car fanatics. You will not get this experience from an electric vehicle.
For starters, HFCVs do not have a combustion engine to produce the rumble most of us love to hear. The car also does not have a traditional gearbox. You will not have a rev counter on the gauge cluster of the car. Instead, you will see a power bar. It is like the power bar that you see in many arcade games. Depressing the accelerator pedal will increase the power bar.
They are Faster to Recharge than BEVs
There is another advantage to HFCVs. You can refuel them as fast as you would refuel an ordinary gas-powered automobile. You can be up and running within 3 to 5 minutes. Battery electric vehicles, on the other hand, will require at least an hour of fast charging before you can resume your journey.
Most HFCVs Do Not have a Spare Tire
Hydrogen is less dense than gasoline. That is why it requires a storage system that is not only leakproof. It should also be airtight. The tank for hydrogen is not that different from a gasoline tank. However, it is often a lot bigger. In most cars, they will take up the space intended for your spare tire in the trunk. If you have an SUV that runs on hydrogen, then you can still have a spare tire mounted on the rear door. Sedans may not have such a luxury.
Hydrogen powered cars still have a long way to go before they can dethrone conventional gasoline powered vehicles. On the bright side, they do offer a cleaner way to travel.