What About Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars, Buses and Trucks?

Toyota began developing hydrogen-powered cars more than 20 years ago, but they have been costly and the refueling infrastructure is still minimal. Recent technological advances halved the cost of fuel-cell stacks that mix hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. Toyota made 3,000 hydrogen cars and buses in 2018 and will make 30,000 in 2020 and 200,000 by 2025.

Honda and Hyundai and significant hydrogen fuel cell production. South Korean and Japanese carmakers are leader in developing and applying hydrogen technology. Hyundai announced plans late last year to invest $6.75 billion in hydrogen fuel cell technology, allowing it to produce 500,000 fuel cell vehicles annually by 2030. It expects global fuel cell vehicles to grow to around two million vehicles a year within that timeframe.

China had some high-level statements and actions supporting hydrogen fuel cell cars but ended that support late in 2019. China had around 1,200 fuel cell vehicles on its roads and less than 20 hydrogen fuel stations at the end of 2017. China is behind the United States, Japan and South Korea, according to the International Hydrogen Fuel Cell Association. The Chinese government had set a goal of 5,000 fuel cell vehicles on its roads by 2020; 50,000 by 2025 and 1 million by 2030.

All battery electric cars already had over 3 million global sales in 2019. There was also a similar number of plug-in hybrid cars.

Electic car production and sales volume are over one hundred times the level of hydrogen fuel cell cars. If South Korea, Japan and China can hit global 2-3 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicle production level in 2030, then hydrogen fuel cell cars would still be less than 10% of where electric cars will be.

22 thoughts on “What About Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars, Buses and Trucks?”

  1. <i>Even the best lithium ion battery is good for only 300 to 500 recharge cycles, roughly 2 to three operational years depending on the application.</i>

    All the battery cars on the road come with warranties for a LOT longer than that. You might want to check your facts.

  2. We have to look at the big picture and total costs. Even the best lithium ion battery is good for only 300 to 500 recharge cycles, roughly 2 to three operational years depending on the application. Once depleted, a lithium ion battery becomes a chunk of hazwaste – a really big chunk if it is an EV battery. An EV battery almost 40% of the total vehicle curb weight. They can be recycled, but that is very, very expensive.

    So imagine a hazwaste generation rate equal to the weight of nearly half of all the cars on the road every few years. And it all has to go into a secure hazwaste disposal facility.

    There is an old saying that nobody makes money selling printers, they make money selling ink, Elon Musk is not selling Teslas, he’s selling batteries. It’s been a brilliant business model, but it will leave us drowning in hazwaste.

    IMHO – with all costs considered – fuel cells are the way to go.

  3. You need hydrogen to make synthetic fuels, so they can’t possibly be cheaper. They may be worth the extra cost where you need higher energy density (methanol is x1.5 energy per volume, LNG and ethanol about x2.5). Otherwise, maybe biofuels.

  4. I think hydrogen has lost when it comes to road transportation. BEVs will conquer the vast majority of the road market and thus the refueling infrastructure for hydrogen will not develop. Hydrogen might be a solution for decarbonizing air and ocean travel, but I suspect other solutions might be more economic (battery for short distance, synthetic fuels for longer distances). Battery is coming for the short haul air travel market.

  5. Toyota got roped into fuelcells by the japanese government, as part of a government (not industry) driven technology investment. See the Ene-farm home fuel cells using natural gas which are now actually becoming more common in big cities in japan. The japanese government is heavily subsidizing hydrogen refueling stations to build up sufficient refueling infrastructure (and likely a backdoor subsidy to gas stations that would otherwise close soon due to having non-compliant in-ground gasoline tanks that are too expensive to replace otherwise).

    Somebody pointed out an old paper on hydrogen gas production via radiolysis via uranium dissolved in water, implying nuclear waste might be usable. That’ll make some people’s heads spin…


  6. It won’t happen. Biomethane is like $12 per mmbtu, equivalent to like 9kg of H2.
    It’s vastly cheaper to make biomethane and burn it in a Allam cycle plant and then carbon capture it (so negative emissions). Sell it as offsets to carbon emission for your gasoline hybrid that maybe also has plugin EV range. WAY cheaper than switching to H2.

  7. Cost per mile for hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is 21 cents per mile
    Gasoline hybrid at 40mpg is 4.25 cents per mile based on wholesale prices. $110 per tonne CO2 price (and it will never get that high) adds 2.5 cents per mile.
    Dead end.

  8. Ironically the Japanese H2 roadmap anticipates clean H2 from Aussie brown coal at a price to match NG by the 2030s. Electrolytic H2 won’t get a look in.

  9. Actually CH3OH would be better. A liquid is easier to store compactly.
    NH3 is another possibility. A gas but it liquifies at modest pressure, so it can be stored in the same sort of tank as propane.

  10. As a GHG mitigation that will be utterly uneconomic until about the entirety of the worlds coal plants are shut down first.

  11. Actually, that would work too as an energy source. Steam Methane Reforming. Sits in refineries when they make fertilizers.

  12. The fundamental problem with hydrogen is storage. The best case scenario is metal hydrides which are expensive, unreliable, and have short service lives. More crude options such as pressurized tanks face leakage and embrittlement issues. You’re trying to store proton-electron pairs. Quite tiny things that can tunnel through things common people consider to be solid.

    Storing hydrogen in the form of CH4 is probably the best option. Not as fancy but very practical and clean.

  13. The environazis will still complain. They’ll complain about all the excess water vapor, which has greater warming potential than CO2, created by hydrogen fuel cells.

  14. Correct, which is why SMR is preferred. Cheap and easy to make H2. Without carbon capture, SMR produces about 4 tons of CO2 per ton of H2, which offsets about 140 tons of CO2 for a normal diesel powered car.

    There are ways to make H2 with zero CO2 emissions with SMR+carbon capture but it adds about 25% to the cost (which is still miles cheaper than other “green” tech).

  15. Difference in sales is unimportant: neither battery, nor HFC cars have market share anywhere near gasoline and diesel. What is important is energy density, fueling time and scalability, and HFC is fundamentally superior in all three. Energy density of liquid ammonia is twice that of liquid hydrogen, and ammonia production is a mature industry with existing infrastructure, which also covers scalability. Fueling time is equal to gasoline. HFC is the only option for electric flying transport that goes further than across town, due to energy density. Putting ammonia or pure hydrogen-fueled vehicles on public roads is a bad idea, as any idiot with license will be empovered for mass destruction and murder. Autonomous flight is where it will do wonders, and with its “green” credentials, governments will accept and then promote it. First Singapore and Dubai, then Japan and Korea, then others.

  16. Clean (green) hydrogen is expensive and consequently is little used as a fuel. This may never change. I expect it will never change.

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