When the electric car revolution dies down, hydrogen can still be successful


For enthusiasts of electric cars, victory is complete. The fat lady finished the song long ago and moved on to another performance.

Now, the dominance of battery electric vehicles over universally despised fossil fuel alternatives seems clearly complete, with politicians in Europe announcing that no new petrol or diesel vehicles will be sold after 2035, and the US moving towards a similar plan. happens.

The sales projections for 2030 and 2035 include the expectations for hydrogen fuel cells as the only rounding off. The idea of ​​hydrogen playing a role in powering cars and SUVs has been dismissed with disdain by environmental groups, who view fuel cells as the power source for some trucks, trains and planes. Yes, but no private cars and SUVs.

According to Schmidt Automotive Research, sales of electric batteries (BEV) in Western Europe will account for about 14.4% of the market share from less than 1.5 million this year and just over 1.5 million in 2023, rising to 20% in 2025 and 65% by 2030 before rising to . , which would mean a turnover of 9.2 million in a total market of 14.2 million. The sales of fuel cells are barely measured.

Victory seems complete, so why are the few remaining proponents of hydrogen – Toyota, Hyundai and BMW – wasting their time and shareholder money on such pointless projects?

For all its courage and virtue, electric cars have some serious drawbacks. Battery prices are now rising instead of falling. Electric cars were on track to become the favorite as battery prices fell below $100 kWh, but the reverse is now happening due to coronavirus-induced supply chain problems and inflation following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What if the demand for electric cars reaches more than 60% of the market in 2030? It should come as no surprise that the price of exotic components such as cobalt, manganese copper and lithium is skyrocketing along the way, negating the economic case. There are some worrying aspects of the supply of certain minerals such as cobalt, such as the alleged use of child labour. Then there’s the perennial concerns about range, the need for insanely expensive charging infrastructure, and some experts’ claim that electric cars don’t do much to save carbon dioxide (CO2) anyway. Compared to diesel, electric cars are disappointing for long distances.

So it’s no surprise that some say fuel cells will one day make up a significant portion of the personal transportation budget. Even the all-electric Volkswagen has announced a hydrogen project. Wards Auto reports that VW is developing a new hydrogen fuel cell for a vehicle that can achieve a range of 2,000 kilometers. BMW CEO Oliver Zipse has said the next trend to power cars and SUVs will be hydrogen, with sales starting in the US within 5 years. Gypse also reiterated a point made by Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, that it was dangerous to ban ICE technology by politicians rather than by engineers developing the best systems.

In October, the European Parliament approved a plan to support green hydrogen in the transport system, mainly aimed at trucks. The plan covers a maximum distance of about 60 miles between each hydrogen refueling station on Europe’s main highways. It will also be available for cars and SUVs. The Brussels-based lobby group Transport and Environment was not pleased with the proposal when it was circulated a few months ago, saying it could pollute the energy grid in the short term and be “dangerous” for clean energy policy.

Bernstein Research states in its report “Hydrogen Highway 2022: Rocky Road to Decarbonization” that achieving net zero CO2 is impossible without hydrogen.

“Although green hydrogen will be the long-term solution, we still expect blue hydrogen to play an important role until renewable capacity is sufficient for both green electricity and hydrogen. Fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) are also on the rise. Sales of FCEVs in China grew nearly 200% in the first half. China aims to have 1 million FCEVs on the road by 2030,” the report said.

At the Paris Car Show in October, NamX unveiled its SUV, a HUV powered by hydrogen.

NaMX, or New Automotive and Mobility Exploration, says it has solved the lack of infrastructure problem facing fuel cell startups. The Namex has two hydrogen tanks. One is common with other FCEVs such as the Toyota Mirai. The second tank uses removable hydrogen capsules, which do not need to be refilled at a regular station. Instead, the capsules can be bought in stores. The NamX has 6 capsules and when combined with another tank, the vehicle can travel up to 500 miles. Switching takes about 30 seconds. NamX plans to start selling HUVs in 2025.

Alexandre Audoin, Head of Global Automotive at consultancy firm Capgemini, sees great potential in fuel cells, not only for large cars, but also for small cars.

Audoin said Capgemini and its partners have developed a hydrogen-powered prototype for urban and suburban use that can coexist with other technologies.

“There is no single answer that will solve today’s mobility challenges. So it’s not a question of which technology is better, but that car manufacturers use different technologies to support sustainable change and adapt to the diversity of customer use.” and how the solutions can coexist. A variety of hydrogen-powered vehicle systems are coming to market in single-capsule, two-tank, multi-tank, and others, depending on the vehicle type and solution needs. There will be options.

“Fuel Cell Hybrid Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) may be a viable option in the near term, as long as the infrastructure is developed. One of the main advantages is the shorter duration of tank loading compared to fuel. Just like the power supply (hydrogen, green and non-green), the origin must also be investigated. Ultimately, despite the efficiency of the H2 series being lower than other solutions, it is a solution that can give us greater range with faster refills. There is also a battery, but it is smaller, so less rare materials are used – for example, fuel cells today use an optimized amount of platinum, allowing a recovery rate of more than 99% – the rest The components can also be purchased at a lower price recycled lower carbon cost than batteries,” Audoin said in an email exchange.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe it’s game over for anything but a battery electric vehicle, though there’s some concession on the use of fuel cells for long-haul cars and SUVs. But if the NamX experiment is successful, it suggests that fuel cells could also be viable for smaller vehicles with shorter ranges. That’s a big challenge for battery electric cars and good news for consumers as manufacturers are forced to fight for new customers.

As Gary Silberg, KPMG’s Global Automotive Sector Leader, told me earlier this year, the battery electric vehicle (BEV) may have the inside track for now, but it’s too early to be sure.

“The future of BEV is clearly current conventional wisdom, but I believe the next few years will be much more complex and unpredictable than (this),” Silberg said.

“With infrastructure challenges, I think the future of the industry will be fragmented and will not have a single, monolithic model for success – the industry will be more of a mosaic. Over the next 10 to 20 years, gasoline/multi-fuel/powertrain combinations will each other, including ICE, and private sector innovation will be driven by consumer demand,” said Silberg.

A winning hand for hydrogen means it’s made from renewable, carbon-free energy, so green is the only viable option. That is bad news for the blue, grey, brown, pink/purple, turquoise and yellow hydrogen variants.

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