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Hydrogen ready for mainstream use says study

Juniper Research says hydrogen tech is ready, but should we put all our eggs in one basket?

22 Jun 2022

UK ANALYTICAL outfit Juniper Research has issued a new study into the readiness of hydrogen powered vehicles to enter the market in competition with Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs).


It makes interesting reading, giving food for thought as to how governments and consumers should be thinking on the issue.


FCVs (Fuel Cell Vehicles) are powered by hydrogen and are more efficient than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. FCVs do not produce tailpipe emissions, but only emit water vapour and warm air.

The fuel cell was demonstrated in the early 19th century by many scientists, including Humphry Davy and Christian Friedrich Schönbein. William Grove, a chemist, physicist, and lawyer, is generally credited with inventing the fuel cell in 1839.


Fuel cell vehicles, also known as hydrogen vehicles, first came to international attention in the 1970s, during the oil crisis.


Following several years of research and development, Toyota launched the world's first commercialised fuel cell vehicle in 2014. China, the US, Japan, and various European countries have since focused on advancing this technology to pave the way for fuel cell applications to enter the market.


By definition, a FCV uses a hydrogen propulsion system as its on board fuel. The chemical energy of hydrogen and oxygen reacts with the fuel cell and converts the energy to electricity.


Fuel cell technology used in hydrogen vehicles is similar to a battery in that it generates electricity from an electrochemical reaction. It uses an external supply of chemical energy, supplied with a source of hydrogen and a source of oxygen (usually air) – meaning they can run indefinitely.


Fuel cells offer clean, efficient, reliable power generation to almost any device requiring electrical power. Fuel cells are used in a wide range of transport applications, from hydrogen vehicles to aeroplanes.


Due to government initiatives since the early 2000s, promoting the progress of the fuel cell industry through heavy investment in core technology, hydrogen vehicles have been in several prototyping and production stages.


Industry players have made further significant advancements in establishing strategic subsidy policies in fuel cell plans, whereby nearly all types of modern vehicles now have fuel cell products or are prototypes.


Using hydrogen offers a wide range of application types due to hydrogen vehicles' simplicity and flexibility in the current landscape. The commercial hydrogen vehicle market has been segmented by bus and truck types. Trucks are still in the development stage, but buses are already in operation.


Forklifts, buses, and light and medium-sized trucks are at the forefront of fuel cell commercial vehicle applications.


Traditional fuels have significant environmental limitations, including air pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, and oil spills. The burning of fossil fuels, especially carbon dioxide, to generate electricity and to power transportation has far-reaching effects on the climate and ecosystems.


Alternative fuels such as hydrogen reduce carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Hydrogen is gradually gaining popularity and acceptance.


This is being underlined by the cost of traditional fuels that has increased to its highest in recent months as a result natural and man-made influences and the decline in investment among US oil producers since mid-2020 decreased US crude oil production. The low supply ultimately led to a rise in prices.


Sanctions imposed on Russia, the second biggest exporter of crude oil, have led to a further sharp increase in fuel prices.


As hydrogen production and infrastructure investments increase, hydrogen-fuelled vehicles will become a more sustainable alternative than electric vehicles. EVs may not depict an effective alternative to ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles because their emissions potential depends on how the electricity is produced.


The limitations of EVs are highlighted by the existence of hybrid vehicles in many commercial sectors. Buses, trains, and trucks are widely available as diesel-electric hybrids; proving that based on current technology, EVs are not up to the task of providing a mass transit solution.


Additionally, hydrogen is being touted as an alternative to EVs because EVs use large, heavy, expensive batteries that require rare earth metals such as cobalt, nickel, and lithium.


As much as hydrogen requires platinum in the production process, it is needed only in production centres and in minimum quantities. Research on finding an alternative to platinum is also at an advanced stage. The rare metals used in EVs are required for every EV battery.


There are many advantages hydrogen vehicles have over electric vehicles: Hydrogen can be pumped using the existing network of petrol stations. Hydrogen vehicles can achieve longer distances because they densely pack their energy storage. Filling up a hydrogen vehicle takes a few minutes compared to EVs, which can take many hours.


Major automakers, including BMW and Audi, believe that a change in the political climate could favour hydrogen vehicles over EVs. They are presently developing hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicle prototypes in addition to their battery cars, as part of preparations to phase out fossil fuels. 


Before this, Japanese carmakers Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and South Korea's Hyundai were the only manufacturers developing and pushing for hydrogen fuel cell cars for years.


China is expanding its hydrogen fuelling infrastructure, and the EU wants to build more hydrogen fuelling stations for commercial vehicles. The future of hydrogen vehicles is expected to be expansive based on the latest developments.


On another trajectory is Mazda which explored the concept of a rotary engine that burns hydrogen in place of petrol – the Renesis hydrogen rotary engine system. The hydrogen rotary engine is based on Mazda's rotary engine technology but adapted to use hydrogen as its fuel, which does not emit CO2 and offers outstanding environmental performance.


The rotary engine required minimal design changes to operate on hydrogen enabling Mazda to build hydrogen-fuelled rotary engine vehicles at a low cost.


Additionally, a dual-fuel system allows the vehicle to run on either gasoline or hydrogen. Running out of hydrogen is no longer a concern; allowing the car to travel long distances to areas without hydrogen stations.


The Renesis hydrogen rotary engine system draws in air from a side port and directly injects hydrogen using an electronically controlled hydrogen gas injector installed on the top of the rotor housing.


The Mazda RX-8 Hydrogen RE is the world's first practical implementation of a hydrogen rotary engine vehicle.


In 2021, Toyota showcased its new hydrogen-powered combustion engine technology in the GR Yaris. In addition, Toyota's experimental hydrogen-powered Corolla Sport performed exceptionally well at motorsport events in Japan with near-zero tailpipe emissions.


Although hydrogen combustion engine technology is still in the early stages of development and experimentation, it achieves high performance.


The hydrogen-powered GR Yaris and the Corolla Sport feature G16E-GTS, 1.6-litre, in-line three-cylinder, turbocharged engine, but with an altered fuel supply and injection system for use with hydrogen as fuel.


The ability to re-use existing ICE technology in hydrogen vehicles is a major positive factor for manufacturers, meaning that while consumer adoption has not yet happened at scale, manufacturers will continue to invest.


The EU has several hydrogen regulatory initiatives in the making. These initiatives will be vital to the development of a vibrant hydrogen market and will be based on an emissions trading scheme.


Additionally, in support of the 40GW electrolyser goal in the EU’s Hydrogen Strategy, a revised target of 50 per cent renewable share in hydrogen consumption in the industry has been proposed. The adoption of the proposed revision is anticipated to conclude in 2022.


European Secondary Gas Market Legislation is being revised with greater focus on hydrogen.

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