What you must find out about hydrogen gasoline cell automobiles

What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Rattling the torpedoes (and Teslas)! Two of Japan’s largest automakers are about to make sizable wagers on a special type of clear gasoline tech: hydrogen energy. Toyota will launch the $fifty eight,000 Mirai gasoline cell car (FCV, above) subsequent yr whereas hydrogen veteran Honda will out a mannequin in 2016. However wait, aren’t EVs the final phrase in inexperienced automobiles? Gasoline cell automobiles are EVs, in a method, however you possibly can fill one up with hydrogen in 5 minutes fairly than ready hours for a cost. The one method to try this in an electrical car (EV) is by swapping your complete battery. So why are there precisely zero manufacturing FCVs in the stores in the present day, however EVs in all places? That is a story of effectivity, gasoline, air pollution and politics.


What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

FCVs are electrical automobiles by which the “battery” is a hydrogen/oxygen gasoline cell. In contrast to common batteries with locked-in chemical compounds, gasoline cells may be replenished — often by hydrogen fuel. Some cells additionally work with fuels like methane and gasoline, however they’re often restricted to industrial purposes like energy crops and forklifts.

Like a daily battery, gasoline cells have an anode, cathode and electrolyte. Most FCVs just like the Mirai or Honda’s FCX Readability use a polymer trade membrane gasoline cell (PEMFC). In that system, hydrogen is pressured by means of a platinum catalyst beneath strain, which splits it into two ions and two electrons. The electrons energy the car’s electrical motor, whereas the hydrogen combines with oxygen to type water — which exits as steam “exhaust.” Such cells are organized in stacks to supply sufficient voltage to energy a automotive.

Who is definitely making gasoline cell automobiles? We have talked about Toyota’s $fifty seven,500 Mirai coming subsequent yr ($499 per 30 days on lease, and California solely to start out) and Honda’s car arriving in 2016. Hyundai will even begin promoting round 1,000 Tucson FCVs a yr in California on a $499 per 30 days lease. BMW will quickly announce a prototype gasoline-cell drive module, and has agreed to share know-how with Toyota. Most different automakers, together with GM, are additionally testing gasoline-cell automobiles.


What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

If you need a one hundred pc inexperienced FCV, it’s essential make your hydrogen in a non-polluting means. That is no straightforward process, however the easiest way proper now’s utilizing hydrogen electrolysis, by which hydrogen and oxygen gases are produced by passing a present by way of water. The most effective techniques can solely produce hydrogen with about eighty % of the power of the electrical energy used to create it, nevertheless — not precisely an environment friendly answer.

Pure fuel reforming (above) is a more economical approach to make hydrogen, however is polluting. Steam is heated to seven hundred-one thousand levels Celsius (about 1,800 levels Fahrenheit) and mixed with methane to supply hydrogen and carbon monoxide, together with a small quantity of CO2. ninety five % of US hydrogen is produced that means because of giant pure fuel reserves from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking“).


What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

EVs have a longtime recharging infrastructure alongside routes (and in your house), however hydrogen distribution stations are few and much between. That is partly resulting from lack of demand, but in addition as a result of constructing them is costly. Common EV charging stations value tens of hundreds to construct and Tesla’s supercharger stations run about $300,000. However establishing a single hydrogen fueling station prices $1-2 million due to the challenges in dealing with liquid hydrogen. In consequence, there are at present solely 50 or so of them within the US, and 22 of these are in California.

Why so costly? As detailed by Autoblog Inexperienced, the primary tank at a hydrogen fueling station holds almost 10,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen saved at round -250 levels Celsius (-418 levels F). In contrast to fuel or diesel, it is stored above-floor in a particular space away from the pumps. It is then transformed to fuel in vaporizer towers, pressurized and transferred to smaller storage tanks for distribution.

What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Automotive and Driver describes learn how to gasoline up: first you join a multi-pronged communication plug to your car to relay its gasoline wants. Then you definitely join the hydrogen nozzle, seal it by way of a twist-lock and pump, child, pump. Some FCVs settle for fuel at each 350 bar and seven hundred bar of strain, with the latter giving larger vary. It takes about three-5 minutes to refill with seven hundred bar hydrogen gasoline, which runs about $three.00-$three.50 per GGE (gasoline gallon equal).

Toyota and Hyundai will give consumers free hydrogen for 3 years. Toyota has a grand scheme to extend the variety of such stations within the US by constructing 19 extra in California and one other 12 in a hall between New York and Rhode Island. The state of California has earmarked $200 million for hydrogen stations and needs as much as forty extra by 2016. Few different states have introduced such plans, nevertheless, which means it’s going to be a problem for early FCV adopters to tour across the US, a la Tesla Motors.


In case you’re studying this, we assume you do not need to depart a smoking husk of a planet to future generations — and we have already detailed how EVs assist scale back greenhouse gases. However there are extra egocentric causes to need inexperienced automobiles, too. Some, like Nissan’s Leaf or Toyota’s Prius truly pressure your pockets lower than a daily automotive over time in case you rely rebates. So how do FCVs fare as sensible, inexperienced automobiles?

What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

The primary benefit of FCVs over EVs is comfort. A hydrogen automotive might be crammed up for an extended drive in three-5 minutes, the place you will want no less than 20 minutes to kill (see above) to offer a Tesla Mannequin S lower than half that vary. Since that makes FCVs extra like typical automobiles, automakers have reasoned that buyers on the lookout for a greener choice may even see them as extra sensible than EVs.

State regulators are of the identical thoughts. You now have to gasoline a car in lower than quarter-hour to a 285-mile vary to ensure that the producer to reap the utmost California ZEV (zero-emission car) credit. These credit may be resold by automakers and helped Tesla to its first-ever worthwhile quarter final yr. Nevertheless, pure EVs just like the Mannequin S not qualify for the max ZEV credit (not that Tesla wants them now), since most cannot meet the fueling requirement. As you will see quickly, California’s coverage change may very well improve air pollution, however little question motivated Toyota, Honda and others to construct FCVs together with EVs.

As for efficiency and eco-friendliness, FCVs use the identical electrical motors as EVs and carry out equally. Toyota has promised a zero to 60mph time of round 10 seconds for the Mirai and an EV-trouncing vary of 434 miles. Gasoline-cells are a way more sensible choice for pickup vans and SUVs, as properly — present lithium batteries lack the vary to be sensible for such automobiles. Lithium batteries are a lot heavier than a gasoline cell stack/hydrogen tank combo.

However do you have to really feel as smug about your inexperienced bona fides in an FCV as an EV, with nothing however water coming out of your tailpipe? Sadly, nope.


The primary drawback with FCVs is that extra power is used producing the hydrogen gasoline and powering them than a daily EV. Air pollution is a critical problem as nicely:

FCVs are costlier to purchase and function than EVs. Toyota has stated that you’ll purchase its new Mirai for $fifty seven,000, which might drop to as little as $forty five,000 after federal and state rebates. That is a bit cheaper than a Tesla, however you will get a Nissan Leaf for about $30,000, or round $20,000 after rebates. As talked about, fueling an FCV with hydrogen prices round $three.00 per GGE, and the DOE estimates it’s going to value about $50 to fill one up (Toyota’s free gasoline however). Meaning an FCV will value twice as a lot to function as a Prius hybrid, and greater than 4 occasions as a lot as an EV. Sure, that value will come down over time, however it’s going to additionally proceed to drop on EVs and hybrids.

What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Inexperienced hydrogen prices extra to make and use. The one sensible solution to get inexperienced hydrogen (with out reforming methane) is thru electrolysis. However frankly, the electrical energy consumed in that course of can be put to raised use in a daily electrical automotive. Because the chart above exhibits, from the facility plant to the driving wheels, EVs make a lot better use of inexperienced energy than hydrogen automobiles. No less than that is the place the know-how is at proper now.

Reformed methane hydrogen is as dangerous as gasoline. OK, so that you get your hydrogen from reformed methane. That is at the least higher than burning fuel or diesel, proper? Not a lot. Ford just lately stated that FCVs “don’t present vital environmental advantages on a nicely-to-wheels foundation” in comparison with fuel engines. They usually might truly be worse, as a result of current research have proven that methane infrastructure leaks are worse than beforehand thought (as much as seven %), and as a greenhouse fuel, methane is 86 occasions worse than CO2.

What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Hydrogen fueling infrastructure might be pricey. As proven above, hydrogen fuel is explosive, which makes it tough to deal with. Delivering electrical energy is fairly easy: each home has it. However hydrogen automobiles would require an enormous funding from manufacturing to supply, with value, complexity and air pollution added at every step.

Does all that appear like we’re down on hydrogen automobiles? In comparison with EVs as inexperienced, economical automobiles proper now, sure, we’re — judged on these requirements, they only do not measure up. However in shoppers’ hearts, “sensible” can also be massive, and gasoline cell automobiles are undeniably quicker to gasoline and have extra vary. Additionally, they’re nonetheless of their infancy — plug-in electrical automobiles additionally had issues that appeared insurmountable ten years in the past, and there at the moment are round 280,000 of them within the US. As one FCV booster put it, ninety seven % of the automobiles on the street nonetheless burn fuel, so why all of the hate from EV followers? Gasoline-cell improvement will push each applied sciences to enhance and hopefully push fossil-gasoline burning automobiles off the street ahead of later.


What you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Current FCV launches by Toyota and others have stirred up curiosity within the tech and we have simply scratched the floor. There is a load of data from California’s Gasoline Cell Partnership website and the US Division of Power. Clear Technica wrote a scathing takedown of what they name a “profoundly counterproductive” funding of gasoline cell automobiles, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk referred to as them “bullshit” (massive shock). Thinkprogress has a 3-half collection (1,2,three) crucial of hydrogen automobiles in comparison with EVs. Inexperienced Automotive Reviews additionally posed 10 inquiries to Toyota, Honda and Hyundai about critical points with FCVs, full with responses. In the meantime, this FCV advocate posed 10 questions proper again at them. Lastly, although gasoline cell automobiles are new, none aside from Jack Nicholson identified (under) that hydrogen automobiles have been round a lot longer.

[Image credit: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi (header image), AFP/Getty Images(Toyota Mirai refueling), AFP/Getty Images (FCV nozzle), AFP/Getty Images (Tesla Model S recharging), Advanced Power and Energy Program (FCV Chart), NASA (Space Shuttle), CBC Archives (YouTube/Jack Nicholson)]

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