While traditionally fuelled (petrol/diesel) motor vehicles still make up most of the UK’s road transport, it’s certainly becoming increasingly popular to see vehicle decals highlighting that they’re either a hybrid or fully electric, and the sight of a Tesla is no longer considered outside of the norm. Charging points are also becoming a familiar site at supermarkets, service stations and office blocks, with the government spending millions on putting incentives and infrastructure in place to reward drivers that have made the switch to green transport.
So, with all this weight being given to battery powered electric vehicles, it was with some surprise to learn that some notable vehicle manufactures (Honda, Toyota, Hyundai) have supplemented their green vehicle ranges with new vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells – which some are hailing as the true future of electric transport.
What is a Hydrogen Fuel Cell?
Believe it or not, hydrogen fuel cell technology has been around since 1839, originally invented by Sir William Grove. Like a traditional lithium battery, hydrogen cells also store electrical energy. Unlike a lithium battery, the electricity is developed onboard the vehicle through a chemical reaction that’s converted into energy. This process has been refined and improved over subsequent years, with different vehicle manufacturers developing their own hydrogen cell platforms.
The Pros to Hydrogen
Unlike lithium battery powered EVs that can take more than an hour to charge, hydrogen cells can be fuelled from a pump in under 5 minutes, making them much more like traditional petrol vehicles. The range from a single fill up can also reach 500 miles, helping to reduce the anxiety that can be experienced when driving battery-only vehicles, especially true within remote locations or for journeys requiring a time critical mobility solution.
While the technology may be decades old, its modern incarnation is yet to generate enough support for the spread of hydrogen fuelling stations, with there currently only being four pumps in the UK at the time of writing this article. There is also still a carbon footprint associated with hydrogen, with the process of both refining the hydrogen and subsequent transport required to take it a fuelling station, in the same way as we transport petrol and diesel, both contributing to emissions.
Several manufacturers believe that hydrogen fuel cells really are the future, with the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity and Hyundai Nexo leading the way. BMW and Audi are tweaking their offerings as we speak, and there’s even a small Welsh start-up named Riversimple leasing its own small fuel cell car. Overall, they are relatively expensive to buy at the moment, but with governments across the world making commitments to rollout a hydrogen infrastructure and offering incentives to buyers, it could only be a matter of time before we see it here in the UK too.
With the continued drive to reduce carbon emissions to slow climate change, the generation and research of green vehicles is certainly set to continue. We’ll continue to study this market place closely and report on any fresh innovations as well as changes to green vehicle support infrastructure.
Categorised in: Advice
This post was written by Mike Palmer
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