Future of Transportation: Hydrogen Power vs Electric Vehicle Charging

The availability of hydrogen fuel stations in the UK is currently limited compared to electric vehicle charging, with only 15 stations across the country. However, hydrogen-powered cars offer the advantage of zero emissions during operation. While electric cars are commonly discussed as a solution, hydrogen-powered vehicles should not be overlooked.

If hydrogen production is sustainable, these cars can provide an emission-free alternative to traditional vehicles that rely on large lithium batteries. In order to achieve the goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, it is crucial to move away from the polluting nature of petrol and diesel cars, which contribute nearly a quarter of the UK’s total emissions.

Electric cars have gained popularity as an alternative, but they are not without their drawbacks. Although they emit fewer emissions while running, their reliance on lithium for batteries leads to environmental concerns and contamination during extraction. Additionally, the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles faces challenges, as highlighted by the results of the 2023 National Home Energy Survey, which showed that 45% of respondents would not consider owning an electric car, even if it were free.

Hydrogen-powered cars provide an alternative solution. These vehicles use fuel-cell batteries that do not require lithium and offer an impressive average range of around 400 miles or more. Moreover, refuelling hydrogen cars is comparable in speed to refuelling petrol or diesel vehicles, addressing one of the major downsides of electric cars.

So, why haven’t hydrogen fuel stations gained the same level of popularity as electric vehicle charging?

Are hydrogen-powered cars available?

Yes, hydrogen-powered cars do exist and can be purchased in the UK. However, the options are extremely limited. Currently, only two models are available: the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo. These vehicles come with a considerable price tag, with the more affordable Mirai costing £50,000 and the Nexo priced at £68,000. Furthermore, refueling these cars is challenging due to the scarcity of compatible hydrogen stations, with just 15 such stations in the UK.

How do hydrogen-powered cars work?

Hydrogen-powered cars operate similarly to electric cars, relying on electricity to run. However, the power generation process is different. Instead of charging a lithium-ion battery from an external source like an EV charging station or a solar panel system, hydrogen cars utilize fuel cells to produce electricity. Through a chemical reaction within the fuel cell, hydrogen is converted into an electric current, which powers the car’s motors and propels the vehicle. The process produces no emissions, with only water emitted from the exhaust pipe.

Barriers to hydrogen-powered cars in the UK

Despite their advantages, hydrogen-powered cars face several barriers to widespread adoption in the UK.

Hydrogen production: Currently, the UK’s hydrogen production is insufficient to fuel a large number of hydrogen-powered cars. To make a significant impact, the country needs to increase hydrogen production, particularly green hydrogen produced through electrolysis using renewable energy. However, according to the National Home Energy Survey, only 6% of respondents who support increased renewable energy listed hydrogen as their preferred choice.

Cost: Green hydrogen, the environmentally friendly option, is more expensive to produce compared to grey hydrogen, which is derived from fossil fuels. The cost barrier becomes evident when scaling up production to meet the demands of a hydrogen-powered car revolution. In contrast, refining a gallon of petrol, which weighs 3.79 kilograms, costs just 32p.

Infrastructure: The infrastructure for hydrogen-powered vehicles is currently lacking. With only 15 stations available, hydrogen stations need to be purpose-built, unlike EV charging stations that can be easily added to existing petrol stations or homes. The construction of a single hydrogen station costs approximately £2 million, and experts estimate that the UK would need at least 1,000 stations across the country to create a viable network for hydrogen cars.

When will hydrogen-powered cars be widely available?

Hydrogen-powered cars are already available for purchase, albeit in limited quantities. The Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo, which have been available since 2015, have not yet gained significant traction in the UK. As of 2023, there are only 115 Mirais and 29 Nexos on UK roads due to the scarcity of hydrogen refueling stations.

As for the full adoption of hydrogen-powered cars in the UK, there is no concrete timeline. It largely depends on resolving the current issues with hydrogen infrastructure. The government’s hydrogen strategy does not indicate substantial uptake of hydrogen-powered cars by individual motorists. However, it suggests that hydrogen will be used more extensively in public transportation, such as HGVs, buses, and rail, by 2030. The strategy estimates a potential demand of up to 6TWh of low-carbon hydrogen from the transport sector in 2030.

Have other countries embraced hydrogen-powered cars?

China leads the world in terms of hydrogen-powered cars and infrastructure, with 250 viable hydrogen stations. The country has set an ambitious goal of having over one million hydrogen cars on its roads by 2030. Japan follows closely with 161 hydrogen stations, which is not surprising given that Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda are among the few manufacturers producing hydrogen-powered cars. South Korea also has 141 hydrogen stations and is home to Hyundai, the manufacturer of the Nexo available in the UK.

Summary of Hydrogen-Powered Cars vs Electric Vehicle Charging

While hydrogen-powered cars offer clear advantages over traditional petrol/diesel cars and electric vehicles, challenges such as high production costs and inadequate infrastructure hinder their widespread adoption in the UK. It will take time and significant investment to develop a robust hydrogen infrastructure. In the meantime, electric cars remain the most viable option for drivers seeking to transition away from fossil fuels.

If you need EV charger installation experts and suppliers for a residential or commercial property anywhere in the UK, get in touch today; we’d love to help.