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Hydrogen-powered cars – costs, emissions and market information

21 January 2021

The current challenges of the automotive market require the use of green energy. Does the power grid in Europe depend on the success of the hydrogen engine? We present the most important information and comparison of hydrogen-powered cars with electric vehicles.

Hydrogen-powered cars – the operating principle of the hydrogen fuel engine

Hydrogen as a fuel was originally used to propel space rockets. This use is an excellent example of its potential as an energy source. Today, this type of technology has been intensively modified and miniaturized, which means that we can also find this type of cell in the smaller vehicles we use on a daily basis. We are talking about buses, cars, and even bikes and ships of different sizes.

This raw material appears to be a green alternative to petrol – there are no emissions of harmful chemicals during its exploitation. However, we must also pay attention to the production aspect. When we talk about the most common element in the universe, we must not forget that it is most often found on Earth in a form that requires additional processing before it can be used as fuel. This additional energy input brings us back to the underlying problem: if the alternative energy source is going to prove itself as a substitute for those currently in use, it must offer engines better propulsion properties.

First of all, it is worthwhile to briefly describe the operation of the hydrogen engine. This type of system uses hydrogen as a raw material to generate electric current. On the principle of reverse electrolysis, water and energy are produced, which can be stored and used to propel the wheels of the vehicle.

The automotive market – hydrogen vs. electric cars

Constructing an electricity network capable of meeting the needs of a modernized fleet of electric vehicles in Europe is a very difficult challenge. The demand for electricity in the transport sector may be so great that the necessary infrastructure cannot be created quickly. It will gradually emerge in developed countries, but this process will take many years. It is therefore worth having an alternative available, which not only offers considerable potential in terms of driving efficiency, but also uses a green energy source.

At present, there are only a small number of vehicles powered by hydrogen cells on the continent, but on the basis of the increasing availability of hydrogen refueling stations, we can see a growing interest in such solutions. Most of these vehicles are available from manufacturers in East Asia, where hydrogen-powered cars are more popular.

Will hydrogen-powered cars dominate the market?

Hydrogen-powered cars have a chance in the European, American and Asian markets – but much depends on the volume of production and the approach to their use. The biggest problem seems to be the energy cost of producing this raw material. Another important issue is transport.

Planning for a scenario wherein the production of hydrogen fuel takes place in a location with an efficient electrical infrastructure, constant access to raw material and relatively low electricity demand, seems justified. Probably after deducting the costs of hydrogen transport and processing, the raw material could function as a permanent substitute for oil and electricity. At the moment, however, the small proportion of cars using this type of propulsion makes forecasting difficult: there are only four models currently available in widespread production.

See also: Future of motorisation – What will the car of the future look like?

Hydrogen-powered cars – the price of vehicles and refueling

At present, refueling prices are quite high due to the small number of hydrogen supply stations. In the case of a medium-sized passenger car, we can estimate a cost of 10 euros per 100 kilometers. This is a much higher amount compared to electricity, although comparable figures apply to petrol cars. The development of hydrogen networks and the emergence of further stations offers the chance of a significant fall in prices, but currently the demand for this type of solution is too low.

The convenience of using hydrogen-powered cars – much faster charging

Supplying the vehicle with hydrogen is a relatively fast procedure, especially when compared to a several-minute stop when charging an electric car. However, we cannot overlook the fact that the charging time of battery cells is systematically getting shorter and shorter. Developments in both areas suggest that we will probably reach the point where the time difference between hydrogen and electricity is marginal and irrelevant to the end user. If we master the ability to process hydrogen, which produces less CO2 and consumes little electricity, this type of fuel can be an effective and attractive alternative.

You should not turn away from innovation – it is not the end for hydrogen

Hydrogen-powered cars are currently a market niche, but it can explode at any time – as soon as more effective methods of dealing with this element are developed. If the fears of the large automotive companies and electrical infrastructure companies are confirmed, we might have to turn to hydrogen as an alternative fuel to electricity. However, regardless of the nature of the electric car market, it is worth relying on modern solutions. Modern batteries use EPP foam elements, which provide effective and lightweight thermal insulation. They provide additional protection against shocks and damage. One of the companies that provides this extremely effective solution is Knauf Automotive. We also offer other high-end innovations to support electromobility in the vehicles of the future.

See our offer: Battery pack for car & EPP insulation solutions for battery systems

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