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Fuel Cell or Electric Vehicles? What is the Future?

Will people choose fuel cell cars over the presently prevalent gasoline powered cars? If the trend of rising gasoline price and no other alternate fuel for vehicles, yes people will choose hydrogen powered or electric vehicles over petrol or diesel cars.

Battery powered vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have both seen major advancements in the recent times.

These advancements are mainly due to the shift of interest of manufacturers from traditional combustion engines because of environmental policies and because they “care about the environment.”

Compared to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, electric vehicles from the likes of Tesla and a few other manufacturers have been happily accepted by consumers  all over the world. But are electric vehicles really the future? First lets talk about the technologies.

Electric Vehicles

EV Technology

Battery powered vehicles don’t have an engine. They make use of high capacity batteries that power one or more motors in the vehicle. But are electric vehicles really making use of real green technology?

Electric vehicles were being made in as early as 1800s. But due to the competition with mass produced combustion engine vehicles, they didn’t turn out to be feasible.

Tesla Model S

Electric vehicles grew in popularity again in 1980s and 1990s due to oil energy crisis but the cars never achieved mass production. Electric vehicles have been making a comeback since the launch of mass production Tesla cars like the Model S and the Model X.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

These vehicles are also driven by a motor. But rather than using a battery, they are powered by an onboard fuel cell, usually using oxygen in the air and water.

Fuel cell EV

A catalyst is used to combine two reactants. A variety of fuels can be used to support fuel cells, but the most common is hydrogen that is produced from natural gas. When oxygen and hydrogen react, they produce only water and heat, making them “zero-emissions” vehicles (like battery-powered electric vehicles).

EVs V/S Fuel Cell Vehicles

If I ask you some names of electric vehicles, some people can even name a few, some even 10s of names. But if I ask you about the names of Hydrogen Cell vehicles, most of the people might not even name 1. Reasons?

  • Fuel Cell vehicles are not at all feasible currently. There are maybe a few dozens of fuel cell stations globally but EV charging stations are already abundant in developed countries like the US.
  • Platinum is one of the most commonly used catalysts for fuel cells, but it’s very expensive. On the other hand, electricity is much cheaper.
  • They are much easier to buy. There are a number of electric vehicles in the market, but a handful of fuel cell vehicles
  • You can charge your EV at home. You can’t even find a hydrogen gas station near your home
  • They are cheaper to buy. Battery electric cars start at $24,000, have several options below $40,000 and only then leap up to Tesla levels. Hydrogen cars in the USA start at around $58,000.

Some researchers say that, manufacturing of these high charge capacity batteries in EVs itself causes pollution to such a great extent that a small petrol engined hatchback won’t make in its whole lifespan.

In addition to that, even the electricity used to charge these vehicles is generated with the help of dirtier and more polluting ways, let’s say a coal power plant. Even Hydrogen is made from steam reformation of natural gas with a big carbon debt built into every kilogram (the equivalent of a gallon of gas).

Toyota Mirai, a popular HFCEV

Hydrogen vehicles have a few advantages over EVs. Fuel cell vehicles don’t have the same range limitations as battery-powered vehicles because they can simply store more (hydrogen) fuel.

Also the there are no batteries to carry around so less wastage of energy. Batteries which power modern EVs are way way heavy.

For us to even start to think of buying a hydrogen powered car, these advancements have to be made-

  • Hydrogen would have to be able to be created cheaply at industrial scales without negative externalities.
  • More Hydrogen refueling stations should be set up.
  • The performance of cars powered by Hydrogen cells should be improved. They are sluggish and make weird buzzing clicking sounds.
  • The cars’ price would have to drop.

Electric Vehicles are right on track and way ahead in technology than Fuel Cell Vehicles. They have got a big headstart and more and more consumers will start buying EVs over traditional Gasoline powered cars. More and more countries will start discouraging sales of traditional cars.

If the technology behind these Fuel Cell vehicles improves and becomes cleaner than EVs, then we might see a shift over to Fuel Cell vehicles provided no other technology(Solar powered Vehicles) overtakes it.

It’ll be interesting to see more alternate fuels for our cars in the near future and hope keeping and driving a car becomes cleaner and remains affordable.