Hydrogen cars may be the future – they are not yet the present

The European consumer is hardly buying any hydrogen cars, despite the EU's belief that it has a potential to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Published On: November 30th, 2018
Hydrogen cars may be the future – they are not yet the present_62ccb3a676657.jpeg
Hydrogen cars may be the future – they are not yet the present_62ccb3a676657.jpeg

Hydrogen cars may be the future – they are not yet the present

The European consumer is hardly buying any hydrogen cars, despite the EU’s belief that it has a potential to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

When you think of a car that is not powered by petrol or diesel, you probably think of a battery-electric vehicle. But another alternatively-powered car is said to be gaining momentum – the hydrogen fuel cell car. An advantage of fuel cell hydrogen car is that you can refuel it within three to five minutes – comparable to a petrol or diesel car. Hydrogen can be produced through electrolysis of water with electricity from green power sources like wind or solar.

The fuel cells then convert the hydrogen into electricity to power the car. (Although it should be noted that you can also produce hydrogen with polluting fossil fuels, and that the majority of Europe’s hydrogen currently has that dirty source.) Ministers from 25 European countries adopted a declaration in Austria in September on the potential of hydrogen from renewable energy sources. They said that “renewable hydrogen is able to store as well as provide reliable and timely access to renewable energy, thus offering new opportunities to increase energy security and reduce the Energy Union’s dependency on fossil imports”. Several speakers at a recent event in Brussels also claimed that interest in hydrogen was increasing.

“Why is the hydrogen debate accelerating now? One important reason is the huge declining cost of wind and solar energy in recent years, which has opened the prospect of large-scale production of green hydrogen,” said Valerie Bouillon-Delporte, president of the board of the industry lobby group Hydrogen Europe. But she also warned the participants of a conference on fuel cells and hydrogen not to get ahead of themselves. “We need a push, but no hype please,” said Bouillon-Delporte. Looking at the raw figures, the European interest in fuel cell hydrogen cars is still extremely limited. 

According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association , 92.3 percent of all cars registered in the months July, August, and September were powered by fossil fuels – either petrol or diesel. Of the remaining slice of alternatively-powered passenger cars, most were plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) over the past two years have been even less popular than extended-range electric vehicle (EREVs) – which include an internal combustion engine that can recharge the battery.