Could Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles become Viable?

Hydrogen is now being deployed in cars as an alternative transportation fuel in zero-emission vehicles, writes Larry Lantz.

By Larry Lantz Wheels.ca

Jan 30, 2018 3 min. read

Article was updated 6 years ago

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Plenty of media attention is paid to all-electric and hybrid vehicles, but not to hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars.

That is about to change, as hydrogen-powered cars could become a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine within the next decade.

Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe and is used as fuel for rockets, as well as in the food, beverages, and pharmaceutical industries. It’s now being deployed in cars as an alternative transportation fuel in zero-emission vehicles.

Hydrogen is a cleaner alternative to gasoline- and electric-powered cars, trucks and buses, which explains its appeal to consumers, automakers, and governments.

To create electricity to power a car battery and motor, hydrogen and oxygen are mixed in specially designed plates, which are installed inside a vehicle.

The advantages of hydrogen fuel-cell technology are many: Fuel-cell electric vehicles have a driving range of more than 480 kilometres on a single tank of hydrogen fuel; refuelling takes only a few minutes, similar to gas-powered engines; water is the only emission; and fuel cells have no moving parts, so there is less maintenance.

Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai are leading the charge in hydrogen-powered vehicles. The Honda Clarity, Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Tucson ix35 FCEV are three hydrogen-powered vehicles now commercially sold and leased in California (the Hyundai Tucson is35 FCEV is the only hydrogen car currently available in Canada).

Other automakers, including General Motors, Volkswagen, and BMW, are also pursuing hydrogen fuel-cell technology, either through partnerships or independently.

Another use for hydrogen vehicles could be with autonomous vehicles, operating in highly populated urban areas. The quick refuelling time of a hydrogen-powered autonomous vehicle — compared to the longer ‘Level 2’ charging time of an electric vehicle — could make the former technology more attractive to consumers. A handful of hydrogen refuelling stations could support an entire fleet of vehicles.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Hyundai announced it will start testing a fuel-cell powered, sport utility vehicle for Level 4 autonomous driving and aims to bring a model to the market by 2021.

According to a Government of Canada website, “Canada is recognized internationally as a global leader in hydrogen and fuel-cell research, development and early stage commercialization. Canada is a large producer and user of hydrogen and home to a significant concentration of hydrogen and fuel-cell expertise.”

In 2016, Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems received an order for five hydrogen electric fuel-cell engines to power clean energy buses in California. The company has collaborated for years with Tier 1 automotive manufacturers (Tier 1 companies are direct suppliers to auto manufacturers).

But, moving forward with hydrogen fuel-cell technology will be an uphill battle. The big challenge in Canada is a lack of refuelling stations across the country. Governments and private companies are reluctant to build these stations until they see greater consumer demand for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation.

Nevertheless, automakers are forging ahead with their own research and development of this emerging technology. No automaker wants to be left behind in the race to develop hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

 Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles ix35

For more information about the future of motive power and automotive technologies, plan to attend the 2018 Canadian International AutoShow, which takes place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Feb. 16-25.

Buy tickets online at www.autoshow.ca and save 10 per cent up until the day the show opens, and avoid the lineups. Family admission passes, multi-day passes and group rates are available, along with a special online Super Tuesday ticket giving access to the show on Tuesday, Feb. 20 for just $14.

This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to president@tada.ca or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.

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