Hydrogen Vehicles. Just what are they?

With the Queensland Government’s announcement in September to add hydrogen-powered Fuel Cell Vehicles to their work fleet, the hype around the zero-emission, clean energy has well and truly arrived in Australia.

Yet, with their imminent arrival, many consumers still find themselves asking ‘what’s the deal with hydrogen vehicles?’ Do they really run on hydrogen? Are they cleaner than other fuel types? What’s the difference between hydrogen and electric? With hydrogen vehicles seemingly right on the horizon of becoming mainstream, these are the types of questions that need to be answered.

So, what is hydrogen power?

Hydrogen powered vehicles are classified as electric vehicles, or more specifically Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV). Whereas a battery electric vehicle (BEV) runs on a battery that is charged by being plugged in to the wall, hydrogen vehicles use a fuel-cell to convert oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen into electricity. The only emission from this process is water. And while BEVs take time to charge the battery, hydrogen vehicles can be charged in about the same time as a regular petrol car while having a similar range, which is much larger than batteries provide.

The other major benefit to hydrogen power is that it can be combusted in the place of natural gas. Because of this, advocates for the fuel are predicting a future where whole cities are run on hydrogen. A key part of these predictions is hydrogen vehicles

The issue that remains with hydrogen power at this stage, however, is that it is very emission intensive to produce. For hydrogen power to be environmentally viable, it must be produced through green power, such as solar or wind. This is where Australia is in a promising position. Due to the vast amounts of sun, wind and land, Australia is well placed to produce large amounts of hydrogen using renewable energy.

Even though Australia is an untapped goldmine of hydrogen production, it doesn’t mean hydrogen powered vehicles are ready for mass production here just yet.

The Hyundai Nexo SUV will be the first hydrogen vehicle to be released in Australia later this year, with a small number of Toyota Mirai’s also in the country for demonstration purposes. The ACT government have ordered 20 Nexo’s for their fleet already as part of their push for a zero-emissions fleet, while the QLD Government has ordered five for their own fleet.

With a current lack of refuelling infrastructure, the integration of hydrogen vehicles will be slow. There are currently only two hydrogen charging stations in the country, however Canberra and Brisbane are leading the way in developing more before the vehicles become commercially available.

Experts in the automotive industry agree that BEV’s will be the go-to electric vehicle for the average consumer at least for now. However, hydrogen vehicles are viewed as providing a complementary role to BEVs in the future in the same way diesel powered vehicle’s complimented petrol vehicles in the past.

As advancements occur in the automotive industry, new technology will always have its critics standing in the way of progress. However, it is widely agreed upon that a transport revolution is in the midst. Scott Nargar, head of government relations at Hyundai, is one such expert that sees changes to the industry already occurring, and believes Australia needs to be prepared for a future that will come whether we are ready for it or not.

“Everything that’s petrol today will be battery in the future, everything that’s diesel will be fuel cell,” said Nargar.

“We’ve got a long way before we transition, but cars of the future won’t have internal combustion engines. Global emissions regulations will determine that, and it’s just a matter of Australia having the infrastructure ready when that day arrives. We can prepare for it or be dragged along kicking and screaming.”

3 Oct 2019

Original source: RACV | Could hydrogen cars power a clean-energy future?