Is hydrogen really futile as a fuel for vehicles?
Is hydrogen really futile as a fuel for vehicles? Is it done and dusted, its potential left to languish by the wayside as electric vehicles (EVs) lead the race to becoming the status quo of decarbonised transport?
As Tesla factories churn out EVs, China launches its own homegrown fleet and manufacturers from Nissan to BMW race for the EV crown, it may well appear so. In the club of big-name car manufacturers, Toyota cuts a lonely figure as it continues to hold high the hydrogen vehicle flag.
The Inefficiency Of Hydrogen
The use cases for hydrogen in transport are crippled by its inherent inefficiencies: “three times as much renewable electricity is needed to power a hydrogen truck compared to a battery electric truck,” explains Mark Thackeray, Managing Director of Access. Plus, a great deal of energy is lost in the production, distribution, and conversion of hydrogen back to electricity.
However, further development in hydrogen will be more than likely, with potential for significant efficiency improvements as governments only just begin to pump billions into hydrogen technologies. It was not too long ago, after all, that EVs did just 50 miles per charge; their commercial reality seemingly dangling on some distant technological feat.
Electric Vehicles Are Not As Green As They Seem
The EV revolution has gained momentum through the belief that consumers are doing something good for the environment. Although it is better than oil, this is not always the case. Thackeray explains that “EV vehicles are not clean or even eco-friendly, EV batteries contain minerals which have to be mined for. Carbon fuel vehicles are used to move the minerals to factories, big energy costs are incurred to make the batteries and to produce the energy to run the EV, not forgetting that the electricity generated has lost over 30% in ailing infrastructure before it hits our plug sockets.
“The only good thing to say about battery technology is it’s a good way for now to store energy for future consumption,” says Thackeray.
Can People Afford To Wait While Batteries Recharge?
In today’s world, we don’t always know what tomorrow will bring – this poses a challenge to the EV driver. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, you’d better make sure you have charged your car in advance, otherwise, you may have to wait while your EV charges. Even though this has been brought down to 30 mins – in a business world, 30 mins could be the difference between winning or losing.
EV’s that need to be charged also don’t work well for medical emergencies, or unplanned trips in the car. “You have to change your mindset and habits to run an EV,” says Thackeray. “Humans are not good at adapting to change, I think most people would agree with that.” How fast EV technology can continue to evolve to facilitate faster charging will likely be determined in coming years, and this could have a serious impact on the speed of EV adoption.
Demand For Hydrogen Is Set To Surge
For all its limitations as a source of energy, hydrogen is a truly abundant and natural resource. It can be harnessed by any country, anywhere in the world, unlike the minerals needed for electric vehicle batteries, which could threaten to transition the global energy supply chain from dependency on Middle Eastern oil to dependency on Chinese supply of lithium-ion – China currently controls a large part of the supply chain.
The global hydrogen production market is growing fast: it is forecast to reach $207 billion by 2026 and by 2050 the market could be in the region of 425 million–650 million tons per year, according to the Energy Transition Commission (ETC). Given these growth expectations, the potential of and demand for hydrogen is yet to be unleashed with its best use cases set to disrupt the energy sector.
Cosmic shifts are underway: long-standing supply chain hierarchies are being gradually displaced as the world redefines one of its most coveted resources – energy – and how it powers transport.