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The hydrogen car: solution for the future or dead end?

The electric car is taking over. But what kind of electric car? The one we know or the hydrogen one?

The hydrogen car is intended to be a supplement to electric cars. Not to replace them
Credit: Shuttersock

So, the thermal, it’s over. Dead. Buried. Good for antiques, and again, provided you are not too fussy. And the solution for the future is the electric. So far, the message and clear, especially as it is hammered beyond reason. But which electric? The one provided by EDF et RTE, his router? Or the one produced by hydrogen? Because yes, hydrogen, present in large quantities in nature, if only in water (H20) can produce electricity. And drive cars.

Be careful though, if it were as simple as that, it would be known.

How it works ?

A battery. Like that of your classic electric car. But instead of working like a normal battery with electricity, it works with hydrogen and produces its own electricity. The hydrogen is stored under pressure, 700 bar, a compressor blows air and the hydrogen-oxygen mixture produces an electric discharge. A bit like the combustion engine model, but without petrol or diesel. And the only releases are releases of water vapour.

The trouble begins

First problem: if, as we have said, hydrogen is present in mass in nature, it is not in its raw state. It is only found in water. It is therefore necessary to dissociate the water to separate hydrogen and oxygen, that will later end up in your engine. And it’s expensive, given the global energy crisis. And it pollutes.

To produce non-polluting hydrogen, it would be necessary to use wind turbines, solar panels or nuclearwhich continues to be debated in France.

Non-renewable energy

Most of the world’s hydrogen is therefore produced by fossil fuels, especially gas. So, from an environmental point of view, this is a problem. Alone 4% of the world’s hydrogen is produced by electrolysis. If this is a solution for the future, it is a distant future.

For the moment, hydrogen solves nothing, and certainly not the greenhouse effect. Moreover, it is a molecule highly flammable and therefore dangerous. If you can’t park an LPG car underground, why can you do it with hydrogen?

Hydrogen: the raw material

The hydrogen car therefore works with water. And the water is far, very far from being inexhaustible. Global warming is gradually moving continental areas towards the poles, glaciers are melting and with rising temperatures, sea water evaporates and the streams and rivers dry up.

Sooner or later, there will therefore also be the problem of a shortage of raw materials. It is not impossible for the Earth to run out of drinking water before it runs out of oil. And before you ride it’s about drink and live.

A performance problem

The separation of hydrogen and oxygen is costly, complicated, and unprofitable. A quarter of the energy produced is already lost during the operation. Another 10% disappears in compression, and another 40% when converted into electricity. Finally 5% are used to move the car forward. Of the starting 100 watts, there are only 38 left

.

A loss which notably deterred Volkswagen to embark on the race for the hydrogen car. According to a cabinet report Horváth & Partnersquoted by the brand the energy efficiency of a hydrogen battery is understood between 25 and 35% for the hydrogen car against 70 to 80% with the electric car.

Hydrogen, a bad idea?

That would be going a little hastily. The hydrogen solution, if we manage to produce it without relying too much on fossil fuels, is valid for light cars. It even has advantages over conventional electricity. Since the hydrogen battery produces its own electricity, autonomy is greater. A single fill-up, carried out in a few seconds, like a full tank of gas, would cover between 450 and 700 kilometers. For heavyweights, on the other hand, the idea is to be abandoned. The battery is barely enough to charge itself.

The price

For the moment, it is frankly dissuasive. Toyotaa pioneering brand in the field, offers its Mirai from 69400 €. And it’s entry-level. Overall, hydrogen cars currently cost twice as expensive as internal combustion vehicles with an equivalent range. Due to the complexity, but also the materials used for the battery: platinum, it’s not under a horse’s hoof. Well rarely. For the full, it is hardly more advantageous. Hydrogen is trading between €12 and €15 per kilo. Which puts the full price of diesel.

Who is launching?

Besides Toyota, Honda propose the Clarity et Hyundai le nexus. In France, Stellaris et Renault above all seem to position themselves in the utility market. On the battery side, Plastic of Allor Symbiowho belongs to Michelin et Faurecia share a fledgling market. They rely for the production of hydrogen on Liquid air et Engie. Everyone prepares their weapons except Volkswagen, therefore, who does not believe for a moment in the future of this technology.

Infrastructure

There, it is no longer a stammering, it is a murmur. 250 pumps in France are planned for 2024 while conventional electric already offers more than 57,000 terminals available and supply is struggling to meet demand. Advantage, the full is done in a few seconds, as for gasoline. Classic charging takes longer. We therefore pay for the quantity of hydrogen charged and not for the time. By 2030, if prices become more reasonable, we could have between 700,000 and 800,000 hydrogen cars on French roads. Staying within an optimistic range. Moreover, the European Union has no disproportionate illusions since it is betting on a ratio of 12 to 14% of hydrogen cars by 2050, the rest being classic electric. Because yes, the electric car has already become classic.

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