Hydrogen

Plug-in EVs aren’t the only potential company cars of the future. Don’t forget about hydrogen as a fuel

Hydrogen was being touted as the fuel of the future back when people sneered at the idea of plugging in an electric car. But while EVs and plug-in hybrids have become more commonplace, hydrogen fuel cell cars are still a rarity. It would be very unwise to dismiss hydrogen technology just yet, though.

 

Hydrogen station sign

“A hydrogen car requires less of a behavioural shift by the driver than a plug-in one”

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF A HYDROGEN CAR?

There are no harmful tailpipe emissions. Hydrogen is used to power a fuel cell. The hydrogen reacts with oxygen to generate electricity. There are no nitrogen oxides or particulates coming out of the exhaust to harm human health, just water. What’s more, it’s a highly efficient process.

BUT A PLUG-IN EV ALSO HAS NO EXHAUST EMISSIONS, SO WHAT’S THE POINT?

You can fill up with hydrogen in much the same way you would fill a petrol or diesel car. Whereas a full charge for an EV takes hours, a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) can be filled in around three minutes. Advocates of plug-in EVs would argue that the time spent to recharge isn’t really a problem so long as a driver has access to a charger at home or work, but a hydrogen FCEV requires less of a behavioural shift on the part of the driver. Range is another plus point for hydrogen vehicles, with around 320-400 miles between fill ups rather than the closer to 200 miles on a good day for a plug-in EV. And because the electricity is generated within the vehicle’s fuel cell, a hydrogen car places no strain whatsoever on the National Grid.

WHERE’S THE CATCH?

The network, or rather the absence of one. Right now, the UK has just 14 hydrogen filling stations, according to Zap-map.com’s database. Compare that with more than 5,000 public locations at which a plug-in EV can be charged. So, unless your business and your customers are based close to a hydrogen refuelling station a hydrogen car is really a non-starter, at least for now.

ALONG WITH THE COST OF HYDROGEN FUEL CELL CARS – A TOYOTA MIRAI HAS A LIST PRICE OF OVER £60,000 – ARE OTHER CONCERNS. IS IT SAFE?

When some people hear the word ‘hydrogen’, they picture the Hindenburg. It’s rather unfair to keep harking back to an 80-year old airship disaster, but nonetheless hydrogen car makers still have to persuade the world that their products are completely safe for everyone to use on a daily basis. Once pumped into the car, hydrogen is stored under high pressure in an extremely tough tank. The one used in the Toyota Mirai is made of an inner polymer-lined layer to hold the hydrogen, a middle layer of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer to provide strength, and a glass fibre-reinforced outer layer to resist surface abrasions. Toyota claims that this multi-layer structure can absorb five times the crash energy of a steel tank. There are sound scientific reasons to see hydrogen as a safer fuel than petrol. While a petrol leak will lead to a pool of flammable liquid on the ground, if hydrogen gas somehow finds a way out of its tank it will simply float away and disperse in the air.

CAN MY COMPANY RUN A HYDROGEN FUEL CELL VEHICLE?

Yes. We’ve already mentioned the Toyota Mirai, and Hyundai has the ix35 Fuel Cell. Then there’s the Honda Clarity FCV, although you won’t be able to order one in the conventional way. Instead, Honda is placing a limited number of cars with customers of its own choosing.

SO, SHOULD MY NEXT COMPANY CAR BE POWERED BY HYDROGEN?

Right now, probably not. But provided the infrastructure expands sufficiently running a hydrogen car on your company fleet will become a more realistic proposition over the next 10-15 years.

Hydrogen car