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Hydrogen Fuel Cell vs. Battery: Comparing Zero-Emission Vehicles

There are well over a billion vehicles on the world’s roads, and while greener technology has seen significant growth, most vehicles are still powered by petrol-fueled internal combustion engines. Driving for a cleaner future, automakers and governments are making key commitments to zero-emission transportation. Earlier this year, for example, the UK government announced plans to end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2035.

Though there has been significant progress in the move toward zero-emission vehicles, “new-energy” and alt-fuel vehicles such as hybrid electric/petrol only hold about 6% of the market share. Consumer education and adoption are still major gaps that need to be closed. A deeper understanding of the origins of the technologies and the differences between them will help alleviate perceived fears and embrace the technology that’s coming their way.

A Quick History: Electric Vehicles

electric vehicle timeline

EVs have come a long way since their invention, and the more recent addition of fuel cell-based technologies give consumers viable options for cleaner travel. While many have a passing knowledge of new-energy vehicles and understand that EVs produce electricity without combustion or emissions, consumers still have questions:

• What is the difference between BEV and FCEV?
• How far can I travel in an EV?
• Are electric vehicles safe?

According to recent studies, a lot of reluctance to embrace EVs is related to high purchase prices, lack of charging points, and fear of being caught short on long trips.

To help give a better understanding of clean mobility options and the technology behind them, we’ve put together a side-by-side comparison of the differences between the two key EV options – hydrogen fuel cells and batteries:

   
   

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)

 

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

How does it work? Hydrogen is stored in onboard tanks and converted to electricity via a fuel cell. The electricity is then stored in a small battery and run through an electric motor.
Fuel cells are similar to batteries in that they produce electricity without combustion or emissions. Unlike batteries, fuel cells do not run down or need to recharge—as long as there’s a constant source of fuel (hydrogen) and oxygen.
The vehicle is propelled by a large electric motor, which is powered through a rechargeable onboard battery system. Lithium-ion is becoming the standard.
What is the range? About 500km (325 mi)

From 273-640km (170-400 mi) on a single charge
How much does it cost to refuel? £10 per kg of hydrogen. Tanks hold 5kg each. Vehicles are equipped with 3 tanks. That’s equivalent to £150, or $195 USD. Incentives and rebates offset the cost. Slow charging in public is often free. Quick partial charges can cost £45 (~$58) in public spaces. Home charging requires a unit that costs about £450 (~$578), but government incentives may refund some of the expense.
Where do I refuel/recharge? How long does it take? Today there are 16 hydrogen refuel stations in the UK. The US has 48 stations. Filling takes just a few minutes and is done at a station and with a pump similar to petrol. Consumers can plug in and recharge at home with an installed charger. There are various public charging stations throughout many countries. Some employers and office buildings offer free charging. It takes 40-80 minutes.
Safety Concerns & Misconceptions Protecting the tanks that carry compressed hydrogen. Battery charge fluctuations that may lead to overheating or fires.
Barriers to Adoption Vehicle cost; consumer hesitancy; safe and adequate storage of on-board hydrogen; making hydrogen is energy intensive. Vehicle cost; adequate charging stations; contains cobalt, which is expensive and mined in unregulated 3rd-world economies.
Fast Fact Europe’s first public commercial hydrogen fuel station opened in Germany in 1999. Ferdinand Porsche invented the first hybrid electric vehicle in 1901.


Though hydrogen mobility and battery EVs still have challenges to overcome, now is the right time for consumers to adopt the technology for a number of reasons:

• Depletion of fossil fuel resources
• Pollution from exhaust
• Hydrogen is a plentiful resource
• Establishment of hydrogen economies
• Fuel cells are a mature technology
• Government support through investment and legislation

Haskel’s Hydrogen Systems Group has been working to resolve hydrogen refuelling challenges by enhancing and expanding refuelling infrastructure. In 2018, it launched the Geno Range of refuelling stations for light- and heavy-duty vehicles. This year, Haskel has launched the Nano Range, which is a chain of refuelling stations for consumer-level fuel cell EVs. While there are currently just 16 hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK, the total number of all types of EV refuelling and recharging stations outnumbers gas stations.


Want to learn more about the strides we're making in hydrogen innovation?

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