Hydrogen has the potential to reinvent transport

Green transport is a crucial part of the fight against climate change. While most of the attention in alternative cars is focused on electric vehicles (EVs), hydrogen fuel is another promising technology.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and fuel cells can convert it into electricity. Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) use this to drive without fossil fuelsjust like the more well-known battery electric cars, but they have several unique advantages.

The most obvious advantage of hydrogen fuel is that it helps decarbonize transportation. The only waste products from fuel cells are water and heat, so vehicles powered by fuel cells produce no greenhouse gas emissions.

As hydrogen does not occur alone in nature, it needs to be separated from other elements, often using electricity derived from fossil fuels. However, green hydrogen uses renewable energy to power this process, reducing total hydrogen fuel emissions to zero.

FCEVs are also very efficient

The driving range is one of the biggest hurdles for electric cars, and FCEVs can travel farther between refueling stops than standard EVs. They can go even further than conventional cars, being up to three times more efficient than gasoline combustion engines.

Another benefit of hydrogen fuel in transportation is that FCEVs recharge quickly. Electric vehicles can be inconvenient because their batteries take a long time to recharge, even with state-of-the-art charging stations.

FCEVs recharge like a conventional vehicle, so it only takes a few minutes to recharge and get back on the road. This convenience can help encourage the adoption of electric cars.

Although fuel cells work differently from combustion engines, they look very similar. Hydrogen tanks are refilled at a pump, just as you would gasoline or diesel, making them more familiar than battery-powered cars. This familiarity will appeal to drivers who are unsure about electric vehicles, helping to decarbonize transportation faster.

Like battery electric vehicles, FCEVs need more refueling infrastructure to see widespread adoption. While there were only 120 large-scale hydrogen stations in 2019, the number could grow to thousands in a short time. FCEVs require comparatively less infrastructure than battery-powered cars.

FCEVs would not need filling stations at home, thanks to their efficiency. Because hydrogen bombs have similar electrical needs to gasoline pumps, they also don’t require the big changes to the electrical grid that battery electric vehicles do.

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Hydrogen is ideal for large vehicles

Another important asset of hydrogen fuel cells is that they can serve a more versatile range. It is easier to power large vehicles such as ships or planes with fuel cells than with batteries, thanks to their efficiency and lower weight. As a result, hydrogen fuel can help decarbonize sea and air travel, not just cars and trucks, leading to more substantial emission reductions.

Likewise, hydrogen fuel has potential beyond transport. It can also store energy for backup power more efficiently than batteries. Such storage can help scale renewable energy, as things like solar and wind do not produce electricity on demand.

This flexibility helps expand the hydrogen infrastructure without waste. What doesn’t go into transport can go to the grid for energy storage.

Hydrogen fuel also has some safety benefits. Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen is non-toxic, so a spill would not endanger the environment. Hydrogen will also dissipate faster in an accident as it is 57 times lighter than gasoline vapor, reducing the risk of explosion.

Likewise, it has less radiant heat than gasoline, which minimizes the risk of secondary fires.

Another advantage of hydrogen in transportation is that fuel cells need less material compared to batteries. Electric vehicle batteries require a large amount of metals, such as lithium, which carry environmental and energy concerns in their extraction process. Fuel cells don’t need as many rare earth minerals, which alleviates these concerns.

The switch to hydrogen fuel would also help the US become less dependent on other nations for energy sources. The United States imports more oil than it exports, so shortages and price fluctuations in different places heavily affect domestic transportation. As the country can produce all the hydrogen it needs domestically, the use of FCEVs would help to avoid these scenarios.

Thanks to all these advantages, hydrogen fuel has great potential for transport and beyond.

By Jane Marsh. Article in English

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