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Advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen fuel for the car

26 August 2022 Update 17 March 2024

Although electric cars are slowly filling the streets, some experts predict that hydrogen may be the fuel of the future. The share of hydrogen-fueled public transportation vehicles is growing, but the increasing, though still low, availability of charging stations and the wide range of hydrogen-fueled cars indicate, however, that this technology has a long way to go before it becomes commonplace among passenger vehicles. Is it worth investing in?  

Hydrogen car fuel – the most important information

The hydrogen fuel is stored in EPP domes which are manufactured by Knauf Industries.
Hydrogen tank dome manufactured at Knauf Industries. 

Hydrogen is one of the simplest chemical elements, which is included in the composition of many chemical compounds, especially water. Its quantity is almost unlimited, unlike, for example, cobalt or nickel, whose reserves are relatively small. What is more, hydrogen, as a fuel with high energy value, makes it possible to travel much greater distances than a system powered only by electricity. However, despite the fact that the element is very widespread in nature and can be extracted in many ways, creating a high-energy fuel from it that can be used to power cars requires the consumption of additional energy. Another issue is the efficiency and safety of using hydrogen fuel. This is where lightweight and durable EPP foamed plastic, comes to the rescue, allowing for the cost-effective production of parts that provide excellent damping and thermal insulation properties, while not increasing the car's own weight, which translates into longer ranges. 

How is hydrogen fuel made?  

Hydrogen used on a large scale in industry, for example, is not suitable for use in FCEVs and does not have good energy properties. Hydrogen as an automotive fuel is produced by appropriate processing, such as water electrolysis. It involves the decomposition of water into pure hydrogen and oxygen ions under the influence of an electricity flowing through it. Although today there are many electrolysis technologies and they are still being improved, this method is not considered the perfect one. First of all, there is the consumption of electricity, which is not always "green." Moreover, the energy needed to produce, compress and later transport and store hydrogen fuel is easier and more efficient to use directly to charge batteries for electric cars. It is estimated that for every kilogram of pure hydrogen fuel produced for a car, 40 to 70 kWh of energy is needed, and that much fuel is enough to drive 100 kilometers. In comparison, an electric car needs only 20-30 kWh to cover the same distance on the highway.  

See also: Extended range hybrids – combining ecology and efficiency 

Is hydrogen fuel safe?  

Many people may doubt whether it is safe to use hydrogen fuel in cars. Everyone knows the story of the crash of the legendary Hindenburg airship, which was filled with just this gas. Despite appearances, hydrogen as a car fuel is safer than even gasoline. Because it is 14 times lighter than air, a narrow, vertical flame is produced in the event of a point leak in the tank, which does not create a high temperature and does not spread. There was even an experiment, where a tank in a hydrogen car was deliberately damaged. The gas burned out in no time, and no trace of the fire remained except for a windshield temperature rising to 47°C. In spite of this, manufacturers are doing their best to ensure that the hydrogen fuel storage tanks they produce meet all safety requirements, giving them a multi-layered structure and protecting them from any shocks. A good example here are the hydrogen tank protection solutions we manufacture from EPP.   

How much does it cost to drive a hydrogen car? 

The cost of operating a hydrogen car could ultimately be lower than comparable alternative technologies, although the final price of hydrogen as a fuel will depend on a number of factors, such as the cost of manufacturing and the energy required to do so, or the rates of locally imposed taxes. In 2022, there were few cars with such propulsion systems, which translates into very poor availability and a higher price for hydrogen fuel, which was around 10 euros in Europe. Now a kilogram of hydrogen in Europe, has mostly become more expensive. In January 2024, hydrogen prices ranged from a favorable €10 in Belgium to €20-24 in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria. In Germany, a kilogram of hydrogen cost €15.    

According to ADAC's 2022 calculations, assuming an average car consumption of 0.8 kg per 100 km, a trip will cost €10.28. Currently, the cost of traveling in hydrogen cars is no longer so favorable. In comparison, for a gasoline or diesel car with an average consumption of 6.6 liters at a fuel cost of 1.70 euros, traveling the same distance will cost 11.22 euros. 

Hydrogen as a fuel for green urban transport?  

Despite the current high average price of hydrogen fuel, more and more cities are investing in a fleet of public transportation vehicles such as buses. By 2023, demand for zero-emission buses in Europe has increased by 50%, benefiting Solaris, the European market leader in zero-emission bus suppliers, with a market share of 15.2%. In Solaris' case, half of the production on offer includes plug-in models, while other manufacturers account for 40% of such models. 

Solaris is also leading the way in delivering hydrogen models, delivering 2023. 200 vehicles that are currently serving more than 40 customers in ten different countries. The company has received additional orders for more than 700 hydrogen-powered models, indicating the growth of this segment of the low-emission car market. In addition, the European Commission predicts that by 2035 all newly marketed buses will be zero-emission vehicles, making hydrogen vehicles the future of public transportation. 

See also:  Green, sustainable transport – what you need to know about it?

Hydrogen fuel as the fuel of the future – is it possible?

The use of hydrogen fuel has its advantages and disadvantages, like any other technology. Whether it becomes a viable alternative to BEVs will be determined by the direction in which hydrogen car technology develops in the future. It is already a worthwhile alternative to other means of green transportation.  

Advantages of using hydrogen as fuel

The most important advantage of using hydrogen cells is that they do not emit harmful substances into the atmosphere. This type of vehicle produces only water while driving, making it completely harmless to the environment. Since hydrogen as a fuel has a high fuel value, the ranges of hydrogen-fueled vehicles are comparable to combustion cars, and they recharge quickly, just as with LPG. In addition, hydrogen as an element is ubiquitous in nature, so its supply will not be depleted.  

Disadvantages of using hydrogen as a fuel

The biggest problem associated with the use of hydrogen as a fuel is its transportation and storage. Regardless of the element's state of aggregation – gaseous or liquid – there are always losses during transportation and there is a need for additional consumption of electricity, for example, for compression or liquefaction of hydrogen. The energy efficiency of the entire process does not exceed 37%. Another aspect is the high flammability of hydrogen in contact with air, which may raise safety concerns among potential users. 

An example of an automotive component made from EPP at our plant. 
An example of an automotive component made from EPP at our plant.

The state-of-the-art processing methods we offer for innovative EPP foamed plastic support the development of green propulsion technologies. Not only do they make it possible to produce standard automotive components with improved strength and insulating properties, they also enable the design of innovative solutions for the cars of the future. Our team provides full support at every stage, from design through preparation for production and manufacturing with the highest quality standards. 

Feel free to contact us.  

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