24 July 20

Hydrogen vs Electric cars, what is the future?

Decarbonising the global economy represents both an unprecedented challenge and an unrivalled opportunity for innovation and investment. Many new solutions will be needed as we march towards a net zero carbon future.

Of course, there are already a string of examples that are proven to make a difference today. For example, Heat, accounts for 50% of the world's energy and 30% of emissions. A solution we have at our disposal today are heat networks which represent an efficient and cost-effective way of delivering low carbon heat at scale.

What’s more, major advancements in energy efficient assets and processes are a part of the puzzle that can be embraced today. By doing more with less, energy efficiency will be fundamental in the global drive to address the climate change emergency. After all, the cleanest energy is the energy that is never used.

Among the industries facing a dramatic reassessment is road transport. A pressing question for many is whether we should consider Electric or Hydrogen vehicles the future?

Arguably one of the cleverest, and strangest, scientists and businesspersons in the world calls it a ‘mind-bogglingly stupid’ idea, but do hydrogen fuel cells have a future? Elon Musk has vested interests, as he is the CEO of the most successful electric car brand in the world, but does he have a point… BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) vs HFCV (Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle) has been an ongoing automotive battle with both sides showing remarkable advantages and disadvantages in storage, weight, range, and the ‘well to wheel’ energy efficiency.

On the outset, from a pure energy standpoint, hydrogen gas (H2) has a specific energy of ~40,000 Wh/kg (Watt hours per kilogram), compared to a lithium ion battery that has ~270 Wh/kg. This makes hydrogen as an energy source have ~236 times has more ‘energy’ per unit weight than a lithium ion battery. So why isn’t it used all the time? There are various arguments, and right now BEV technology does seem several years ahead of HFCV… why is that?

Looking at just a few angles:

  1. In order to store hydrogen efficiently in a tank, it either needs to be compressed to ~700 times atmospheric pressure in its gaseous form, or supercooled to a liquid at -250°C, neither of which are cheap options and both of which lose energy in the process.
  2. Although hydrogen is much quicker to “fill up” (~5 mins) versus what can be a half an hour long with the fastest electric charger, it’s 4-8 times more expensive per km than a BEV. It’s generally thought that this is due to the current lack of infrastructure required to make, store and transport the H2 to the fuel station.
  3. The ‘Well to Wheel’ efficiency is much greater for a BEV as the electricity is made, charges the car and runs the motor. This bypasses the stages of generating H2 from electricity (if it’s green H2), storage and transport of H2,and turning H2 back into electricity to power the electric motor in a HFCV.

For now, BEVs dominate the non-internal combustion engine domestic car market, but HFCVs’ light weight, high specific energy, and quick refills make it a very interesting concept for long range vehicles and aviation. We will continue to watch this space as it develops.

At Triple Point we look to develop fresh solutions to big problems, from how to grow our crops and heat our homes, to how to support businesses and drive the economy. And from solutions like these flow opportunities to create value. We call it the Triple Point. It’s the place where people, purpose, and profit meet. Since 2004, we’ve been targeting this Triple Point in areas like infrastructure, energy efficiency and social housing, unlocking investment opportunities that make a difference.