Are Hydrogen-Driven Cars the Very Best Solution to Pollution?
They may seem like the ideal solution, but they have a lot of things to improve
By Miguel Cruz Vázquez
March 18th, 2021
The number of cars that use fossil fuels is decreasing, while the number of electric cars is growing.
In terms of electric mobility, we have two options: battery driven (BEV) and hydrogen driven (FCEV) cars.
First of all, let’s see their basic characteristics.
Battery driven cars utilize a battery connected to a motor. The best part of these cars are their simplicity: you charge them like your phone and you use them. The installation of the charge station requires only a connection to the electricity system of your city. On the other hand, hydrogen driven cars are way more complex, and they require a lot of infrastructure. Here we can see a picture of how they work.
As we can see, the hydrogen enters the fuel tank. Then, it goes to the fuel cell, where it meets a platinum sheet. The platinum has the property
of only letting the positive and neutral parts of the atom pass through it. Because of this, the hydrogen electrons are abandoned, so they can move wherever they want. Obviously, they choose a wire that is also connected to this part of the fuel cell. That wire goes to the motor and we have the movement. Then, the electrons are conducted to the same place where the other part of the hydrogen is, and they regroup forming H2O (water). This process doesn’t generate a lot of electricity, so we need a lot of these plates. In fact, that need of platinum is one of the greatest disadvantages of this kind of vehicle, but we will talk about that later.
Probably one of the biggest advantages of hydrogen driven cars is its quick refuelling. The hydrogen fuel is like the traditional gasoline, with the only difference that it’s a gas.
On the other hand, charging an BEV lasts between 5 and 8 hours. Of course in some places you can charge the 80% of the battery in half an hour, but it requires a huge investment in infrastructure that is very hard to find nowadays.
The main disadvantage of FCEVs is the same of BEVs: they’re not always ecological. Everything depends on where you get the hydrogen. In order to produce hydrogen you need high temperatures, which are often produced burning fossil fuels. At the end, hydrogen is just an energy storage system: you use energy to produce hydrogen that then you convert into electricity.
Detractors also say that it’s a bad way of storing energy, because of the loss of it during the creation of the fuel.
Storing hydrogen is also tricky, because of its low density, meaning it takes a lot of space to transport a very low amount of it. A solution to this issue may be making it liquid, but it takes energy, which raises the cost.
Although the battle between BEVs and FCEVs will be tough, the winner will probably be the one who is cheaper, instead of more environmentally friendly. Nowadays the market is divided: while battery-powered cars are far more popular in the U.S. because of big brands such as Tesla or BMW investing in this technology, in Japan Toyota and Hyundai are taking the lead in terms of mobility, and they’re doing it using hydrogen cars. Only the future will teach us what was the best option.