The future of driving: Will we all be driving hydrogen vehicles?

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The future of driving: will we all be driving hydrogen vehicles?

Hydrogen cars are now a reality. As reported in The Guardian this week, the clean alternative to petrol and electric vehicles is here. The first mass production models have arrived on British roads, with the £66,000 Toyota Mirai and the £53,000 Hyundai ix35 crossover leading the charge.

However, before you dash out to buy one it’s important to be aware of the facts – as well as the benefits hydrogen brings, there are also lots of limitations when it comes to this particular type of vehicle.

What are they?

Hydrogen cars utilise clean energy by creating energy from hydrogen gas. The gas is stored in high-pressure tanks and is passed through a fuel cell stack that mixes the gas with oxygen to generate electricity. This powers the motors and drives the car – emitting harmless water vapour as its waste product.

In cars, this technology has long been predicted as a green alternative to fossil fuels. However, it does have some limitations.

Benefits

Hydrogen cars can be refilled quickly – in 10 minutes as opposed to the 20 minutes it takes fully electric cars. They also have a longer range than electric vehicles.

Fuel-cell hydrogen cars are more energy efficient than conventional vehicles and offer a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over petrol cars. If the fuel-cell vehicles are fed hydrogen generated from renewable energy as opposed to natural gas, this figure is improved to offer zero emissions. 

You’re also likely to receive a 100% discount on congestion charges.

Issues

The problems with hydrogen cars are frequently called into question when they are pitted against pure electric vehicles. Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are generally called into question over the following issues:

  • High first cost of vehicles: Affordability is a problem due to the technology it takes to build hydrogen cells as well as the fact the technology is still new.
  • On-board fuel issues (range): How far will cars go before having to be refuelled? The Mirai is claimed to last 300 miles and the ix35 supposedly lasts for 369.
  • Limited fuel stations: This is a clear issue. There are currently only four stations open in the UK in London and the South East. There are plans to open stations in Sheffield and East London in 2016 – but the rest of the UK will still be largely underserviced by hydrogen stations.
  • Refuelling costs: Hydrogen cars do not offer any noticeable reduction on your refuelling costs when compared to all-electric vehicles.

The future

In an energy-conscious world, low emission vehicles are more important than ever. With the Hyundai ix35 and the Toyota Mirai, we have glimpsed the potential future of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. While they are expensive at the moment, they offer zero emissions and quick refuelling times.

The future of low-emissions cars looks bright, but it remains to be seen how well Britain begins to implement refuelling stations as hydrogen technology picks up in popularity.