Motoring News

Could your next car be powered by hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe – and when you use it to power a fuel cell, all it emits is water. This means hydrogen has the potential to be a fantastic zero-carbon source of energy in the future.

Hydrogen intext0000

Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles, or FCEVs, are already in production, but there are a few hurdles to overcome before you’ll see one in your local car showroom.

How does an FCEV compare to a BEV?

A battery electric vehicle, or BEV, is powered by a lithium-ion battery. The battery is charged with electricity; the lithium ions store the energy and then release it to power your car. It’s essentially a large-scale version of the battery that powers your phone.

FCEVs are powered by hydrogen. They have a fuel tank which is filled with liquid hydrogen. The hydrogen is fed into the fuel cell, which converts the chemical energy from the hydrogen into energy that your car can run on, with water as a by-product.

The pros and cons of hydrogen

Hydrogen fuel cells have advantages and disadvantages as a fuel source for vehicles. The advantages include:

  • The only emission is water vapour.
  • The hydrogen can be sustainably sourced, known as ‘green’ hydrogen.
  • Hydrogen is abundant.
  • Refuelling takes only minutes.
  • An FCEV can travel for over 600km on one full tank.
  • Hydrogen fuel cells don’t wear out like lithium-ion batteries and should last the life of the vehicle.

There are also some considerable disadvantages; perhaps the biggest stumbling block is our lack of refuelling infrastructure. Although construction just began on New Zealand’s first hydrogen refuelling station, there’s a long way to go before we have a useful nationwide network. And because the scale is so limited, FCEVs are expensive to buy and refuel when compared to ICE or BEV cars. There are also some potential efficiency problems with hydrogen, as well as its flammability making it relatively difficult to transport and store.

Hydrogen power on New Zealand roads

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We’re already making good progress on introducing hydrogen-powered vehicles to New Zealand roads. A new car-sharing scheme is supplying four Toyota Mirais to eight Auckland-based iconic New Zealand companies, the Mirai was the world’s first production FCEV and has already sold more than 11,000 units worldwide.

Hyundai NEXO at Tuaropaki Trusts Mokai office Te Pae2 Intext1

Hydrogen is also being considered as an option for public transport and heavy vehicles: in 2021, Auckland Transport unveiled the country’s first hydrogen-powered bus and TR Group has purchased 20 Hyzon hydrogen-powered trucks that can travel over 600km before refuelling. Hyundai is also ahead of the curve, introducing the first of five XCIENT FCEV trucks to New Zealand in 2021. The brand also makes an FCEV car, the NEXO, although they are not currently available here.

Photo 4 2021 XCIENT Fuel Cell NL

Is hydrogen the fuel of the future?

Hydrogen could be an important fuel for the future, particularly in decarbonising heavy industry by replacing natural gas and propane. It could also be important to New Zealand’s economy, because we’re at the forefront of producing sustainable hydrogen. While most of the world’s hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, here we are aiming to use only green hydrogen produced using zero-carbon methods. One partnership is aiming to make Aotearoa the world’s only large-scale green hydrogen producer, and our first green hydrogen plant opened late last year near Taupo.

The possibilities for hydrogen are exciting, both as a fuel source and a potential export – but it will be some time yet before FCEVs are seen on our roads every day.

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