Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles: Have they already lost to EV?

A few years ago, automotive manufacturers were adamant in telling the public that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were going to be the primary transportation of the future. However, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles never took off in the market place and have been mass produced by only three different companies (Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai). Many consumers wonder what factors led to the halt in hydrogen fuel cell development.

The most influential disruption in hydrogen fuel advancements are the automakers Tesla and Nissan. In 2010, Nissan released the Leaf which is an all-electric hatchback that had a range of about 73 miles. When consumers paired varying state tax incentives with a $7500 government tax credit, the payback on the Leafs were considered too good to pass up. Tesla on the other hand took a different approach. In 2012, Tesla released its Model S which revolutionized the automotive industry. The Model S offered an electric range that was comparable to gasoline engines, as well as an attractive design and autonomous capabilities. Tesla had set a new standard for automakers and became one of the most desired cars in the United States. Tesla also expanded very quickly which allowed them to build charging station all along the coast of California and in various cities throughout the United States and Western Canada. Today, there is close to 1000 supercharging stations in North America. This rapid expansion of charging stations allowed them to combat their biggest road block with consumers, long range road trips. There have also been rumors that Tesla could implement automated battery swapping stations, which could swap a dead battery for a fully charged battery in a matter of seconds, thus eliminating the 30-90 minute wait to charge an electric vehicle.

The current range of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is around 300 miles, which is comparable to both an electric vehicle and a gasoline vehicle. The current cost to refuel a hydrogen fuel cell car ranges between $13 and $16 which is more affordable than buying a tank of gas but not as affordable as charging an electric car at home (at 0.11 per kWh it cost roughly $2.64 per charge). There is also a very limited number of hydrogen fueling stations in the United States; there are currently 40 stations in the U.S., most of which are in California. Lastly, the average sticker price for a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is around $60,000 which makes the payback on the vehicles almost insurmountable.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are very impressive from a technological standpoint but are not sustainable within the market place. Limited refueling stations, high sticker prices, and underwhelming media coverage has put hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in a distant second place to electric vehicles. When also considering the advancements in residential solar panels and at-home power storage (Tesla home battery), electric vehicles clearly appear to be the car primary mover of the future.

References:

https://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/electricity_charging_home.html

https://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/hydrogen_locations.html

https://www.tesla.com/supercharger

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11 thoughts on “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles: Have they already lost to EV?

  1. I agree that hydrogen powered cars are not going to enter the market any time soon, if at all. The largest factor seems to be that the price is so much greater than any other car. The other big concern is the total lack of infrastructure for refueling stations. Electric recharging stations are easily put in place because of the existing grid, but there nothing like that for hydrogen. I do think it is a great technology and probably very useful for many other applications but I do not think hydrogen fuel cells will ever be widely used in cars.

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  2. I think that, for the time being, electric cars have hydrogen beat. People naturally take the path of least resistance, and as long as electric can offer that, hydrogen will not be able to keep up. Perhaps if battery disposal becomes a problem in the near future then hydrogen can make its move, but baring that or some other equalizer, I do not see hydrogen making a comeback.

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  3. Great read! While I’m not extremely familiar with hydrogen fuel cell cars, the concept is intriguing. Unfortunately, unless manufacturers could find a way to compete with electric cars I don’t see them making it over the horizon. For a while it seemed like either you pay an arm and leg for a ritzy looking Tesla or settle for a Prius/Leaf that’s not near as visually appealing. Now that Tesla is releasing the model 3, which is considered their ‘economic’ model, starting out at 35K and not skimping out on design- it’s going to be tough for hydrogen vehicles to compete.

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  4. I do not think hydrogen fuel cell cars will be making a return any time soon. My family had taken advantage of the tax incentives of leasing a Nissan Leaf. Though its performance is not as impressive as that of a Tesla, I would definitely buy an electric car again. It was convenient to “fuel” my car at home at the end of each day, knowing that I did not have to pay for the high fluctuating prices of gasoline at the pumps. Driving the Leaf also felt clean in that i never had to worry about any fluids leaking and I was not breathing in any exhaust. I can see electric cars continue to grow in popularity. As these cars become a more common vehicle on the road, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will continue to be left in the dust until problems of battery powered vehicles begin to emerge.

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  5. This was a very interesting read. Like several other students, I am not familiar with the hydrogen car either. After reading this post, I do think that both are good alternatives for gas vehicles but they they are not for everyone. If given the opportunity, I would love to see both types of these cars in real life to be able to compare them, but like many others I believe that the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles probably won’t make a come back.

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  6. Tesla now has the very affordable all electric vehicle. I think hydrogen cells are thing of the past already. Vehicle power technology is quickly becoming like computers. The technology experiences a mass increase each year. The battery swap stations is a great idea. This would make it almost identical in time to filling up on gas. The construction of the cars could also change this. Adding clips instead of bolts would allow for even quicker removal and reinstallation of the battery. I expect the electric car industry to i crease exponentially.

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  7. I’m not a huge car person, so anytime I can learn something about them, I’m super excited! Looking at it from a consumer with little to no car education, I will definitely say hydrogen fuel cell cars are never a vehicle, sustainable or not, that would cross my mind. The commercialization of electric cars has surpassed the hydrogen fuel cell powered cars tremendously, and seeing the increase in electric car convenience, tax breaks, and general cost, I don’t see why anyone would ever those a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

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  8. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are a really cool technology but I have never been a big fan because with current technology it can’t get us off of fossil fuels. Right now all Hydrogen that is used commercially is produced by breaking down fossil fuels such as methane to make the gas. Until we find a cost effective way to produce hydrogen it doesn’t make sense to use it as a fuel when we are still producing CO2.

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  9. Hydrogen powered cars have definitely already lost out to electric vehicles. With the rise of mega companies such as Tesla and the construction of gigafactories to produce batteries, electric vehicles have already beaten out hydrogen powered cars. Electric vehicles are cheaper and honestly driving in a hydrogen powered car just doesn’t sound pleasing.

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  10. The key here, like you stated is the economics of it. Unless some major advancements take place which lowers the cost to, or at least close to that of EVs, the hydrogen fuel doesn’t have a chance to take off.

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  11. With the rapid growth of EVs, I don’t think hydrogen fuel call cars will ever take off. EV technology is evolving at an increasing rate, and overall, EV technology is cheaper and more reliable. I think as soon as longer ranges and faster charging times are achieved, hydrogen fuel cell cars will completely go away. Another reason why EVs will eventually win is because EVs store pure energy and use it in that form, while the hydrogen in fuel cell cars is just an energy transport medium similar to gasoline. As any engineer will tell you, it is more efficient to store energy in a battery than to have to carry around all of the equipment that is required to get the energy out of the hydrogen.

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