Many Americans are researching the pros and cons of electric vehicle ownership but what about hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles?
Similar to electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) use an electric motor to power the wheels, creating zero tailpipe emissions. Unlike electric vehicles, FCEVs do not need to be plugged in for recharging. Instead the vehicles create electricity onboard through an electrochemical process that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electrical energy and water. Owners refuel with hydrogen gas, found at conventional gas stations.
Some businesses and governments are looking at FCEVs as a potential solution to reducing carbon emissions, but the technology and infrastructure are still in the early stages of development. To get a better idea of what this means, we have mapped out a few pros and cons for the technology.
Fuel cell vehicles are more efficient than combustion engines – a typical FCEV has about a 300 mile range. Similar to electric vehicles and hybrid technologies, their regenerative braking system is capable of capturing energy lost during braking and storing it in the battery.
Zero tailpipe emissions
Through their propulsion system, FCEVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, only water vapor and warm air. Compared to carbon emissions from combustion engines, fuel cell vehicles would significantly reduce the approximately 760 million metric tons of CO2 produced by American passenger vehicles annually.
Short fueling time
Electric vehicles have been criticized for their long recharging times. Like refilling a combustion engine with gasoline, FCEVs can be refueled in a matter of minutes.
Fuel is sold at existing gas stations
Hydrogen fuel is typically sold at existing gas stations, making it easy for owners to refuel. At this time, the infrastructure is limited to certain areas within the U.S.
California residents can claim up to $4,500 in tax credits and the federal government will contribute up to $9,500 in credits. Some manufacturers will also include a fueling card with up to $15,000 in funds for hydrogen fuel.
Vehicles are expensive
FCEVs start around $50,000, a steep entry price for many Americans. While the vehicles qualify for federal and some state incentives, the price is still significantly more than similar electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf which starts around $28,000.
Filling stations are limited
At this time refueling stations are limited to a few select states. California has the largest market with clusters around the metro areas of San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles.
Fuel is expensive
A typical FCEV costs about $80 to refuel, significantly more than the cost of charging an electric car or filling up a combustion engine. To help offset costs, some vehicle manufacturers provide customers with $15,000 in prepaid refueling.
Fuel may come from non eco-friendly sources
The majority of hydrogen fuel production currently comes from natural gas and coal, which continue to produce CO2 emissions. Technologies are in the works to make fuel production more eco-friendly, such as building carbon capture and storage plants around gas terminals and the use of electrolysis, which uses electricity and water to produce hydrogen. Until alternative methods are developed, hydrogen fuel is not a significant solution to reducing carbon emissions from passenger vehicles. .
ARE FCEVs IN OUR FUTURE?
In the densely populated country of Japan, manufacturers and the government are betting on hydrogen fuel cell technologies. FCEVs require fewer consumer behavior changes compared to electric vehicles. But in the U.S. it seems we have set our current sights on the future of electric vehicles with networks of charging stations in the works across the country.
If you are interested in learning more about hydrogen technology, check out the US Department of Energy website for detailed information on vehicles, laws, and incentives. To see how engineers weigh in on the subject, check out the Ask Engineers Reddit thread where contributors weigh in on Elon Musk’s comment that hydrogen cars are “mind bogglingly stupid.”