Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles: All Hype and No Substance or the Vehicle of the Future?
By Ryan Roberts, GCC 3011 students
Electric vehicles are all the rage nowadays. Consumers can expect to wait months for the change to purchase one as chip shortages across the globe limit vehicle production. With this in mind, now is as good a time as ever to evaluate potential alternatives. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (HFCVs) offer an alternative which seeks to improve on the shortcomings of both gas-powered and electric vehicles. For starters, HFCVs are equally as environmentally friendly as electric vehicles. HFCVs offer zero carbon dioxide emissions as they only emit water vapor and heat. This is a big advantage over traditional gas-powered vehicles. HFCVs also offer a comparable driving range to those of gas-powered vehicles. This is an improvement over the shorter range offered by electric vehicles. Of course, battery technology could develop to the point where electric vehicles have a comparable range to gas and hydrogen fueled vehicles. Regardless, HFCVs have the advantage for now. Lastly, one major gripe with electric vehicles is the long recharging time. HFCVs seek to remedy this by offering refueling stations similar to gas stations that already exist. While electric vehicles take hours to charge, HFCVs could fill up their tank with hydrogen in as little as three to five minutes.
Sounds great, right?
These benefits are not without their shortcomings. The infrastructure simply does not exist for HFCVs. The entirety of the United States has less than 50 hydrogen refueling stations! In addition, more than 90% of these are located in California! An HFCV owner in California is essentially limited to driving within the state as they would not be able to refuel their car outside of California. While California paved the way for electric vehicles to enter the mainstream, HFCVs are still struggling to gain popularity with consumers. This is partly due to the entry-level cost of purchasing a HFCV. For example, the starting MSRP for a 2022 Toyota Mirai is $49,500 while the MSRP for a 2021 Hyundai NEXO is $59,435. These are not accessible prices for consumers looking to purchase a new vehicle. Why should a consumer switch to HFCVs when they need to live in California, need to live near a refueling station, and need to shell out nearly $50,000 for something that is unproven? As of right now, HFCVs are an incredibly niche luxury item and will continue to be so until technological advancements decrease the price of manufacturing these vehicles.
What is the future of automotive technology?
Instead of investing in a new technology, why not better the technology that already exists? Electric vehicles suffer from issues with recharging time and driving range. To remedy this, invest in bigger, more compact batteries which can extend a vehicle’s driving range. In addition, fast recharging technology would help sway a large number of consumers who may be hesitant to make the switch to electric vehicles. Logically, this seems like a fairly reasonable path forward for electric vehicles and the automotive industry. The smartphone industry has invested heavily in battery technology and it has paid off for them with longer battery life in smaller form factors. The same process could be implemented for electric vehicles to fix some of the issues faced by consumers. In summary, HFCVs do not have a tenable path to success unless the cost of production drops dramatically. On the other hand, electric vehicles are a proven technology that needs a few technological improvements to match what HFCVs offer.