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Hydrogen Fuel: Is it the Future for Cars?

POR: Amanda Walter
Hydrogen renewable energy production pipeline

Now more than ever before, consumers and automakers are looking at alternative sources of transportation and different ways to power automobiles. More likely than not, the automobile industry is going to look very different in the next 20, 50, and 100 years.

While electric cars have certainly become more ubiquitous recently, that doesn’t mean that they are the perfect solution to carbon emissions and energy consumption issues. Other alternatives have yet to be fully explored, and they can potentially offer even better efficiency and a greener solution to the energy crisis.

Hydrogen fuel has been in the conversation when it comes to alternatives to fossil fuels for many years. While hydrogen is currently generated using fossil fuels, it is possible to use solar or geothermal energy to produce it in the future. This makes it a completely renewable resource with a very small carbon footprint. Understanding how hydrogen fuel could become the fuel source of the future is a great way to stay on top of the latest developments and make sure you are ready.

What Is Hydrogen Fuel?

Hydrogen fuel is a relatively clean energy source that uses fuel cells to power things like automobiles. While hydrogen creates the energy, the fuel cell stores it and distributes it for use, making it a great choice for cars and vehicles of all types. Hydrogen’s only byproduct is water, which is why it is such a popular choice when talking about renewable energy and clean fuels. While it sometimes needs to be produced using some kind of non-renewable fuel type like fossil fuels, it has the potential to be produced without any fossil fuels in the future. These methods include solar energy and biological energy, both of which are completely renewable and green.

Hydrogen fuel is produced and stored using a fuel cell. Fuel cells work like a battery-powered car, but they don’t lose energy or need to be charged if there is a consistent source of hydrogen generation. With a hydrogen fuel cell car, hydrogen is fed to the anode portion of the cell, and this separates the hydrogen into protons and electrons. These particles then create electrical energy, which can be used to power an automobile, and the only byproduct is water and heat. This means that the emissions from a hydrogen fuel-powered vehicle will be made entirely of steam and will be incredibly eco-friendly.

Advantages of Hydrogen as a Fuel

When hydrogen is brought up in the conversation about alternative fuels for automobiles, it is usually because it is such a clean-burning source of energy. It is very difficult to produce energy without some sort of chemical reaction that can have harmful emissions and byproducts. Hydrogen, though, does not have this issue. The only byproduct of hydrogen production is heat and water, both of which are completely harmless to the environment. Plus, compared to the batteries that are currently powering battery electric vehicles, the energy density is phenomenal. Fuel cells are much lighter, which makes hydrogen-powered vehicles more efficient overall.

One of the major downsides of the burgeoning electric vehicle industry is that charging takes time. Even a fast charging station can take up to 30 minutes to get 200 miles of range. With a hydrogen-fuel vehicle, you can get up to 300 miles of range in just three to five minutes. This makes hydrogen a much more efficient and intelligent choice for things like long road trips, which can be difficult with an EV.

Challenges Facing Hydrogen Fuel

One of the biggest challenges facing the hydrogen fuel industry is the fact that hydrogen is so expensive to produce. A kilogram of hydrogen gas costs between $10 and $17, which makes it much more expensive than traditional gasoline. There are also currently very few hydrogen filling stations, which is perhaps the biggest downside to getting hydrogen vehicles off the ground. Without the infrastructure to support them, it will be difficult to make them as popular as internal combustion vehicles or EVs.

Hydrogen can also present some unique issues with safety. Since the hydrogen needs to be stored at incredibly high pressure, designers need to be certain that the containment units won’t be punctured in the event of an accident. A sudden loss of pressure due to the breach could result in very serious injuries, and it is difficult to safeguard against accidents when driving can be such an unpredictable activity.

Current State of Hydrogen Fuel in the Auto Industry

Currently, hydrogen vehicles are available in the United States, but your choices of models are fairly limited. As of 2023, there are three car manufacturers creating fuel cell vehicles that are on the market for purchase: honda, toyota, y Hyundai. The Honda Clarity was recently discontinued but is still available for purchase, while the Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai, perhaps the most popular of the hydrogen vehicles, are still being produced.

One of the main reasons why there are only a few hydrogen models on the vehicle market is the fact that they simply don’t sell as well as other cars. Hyundai has sold less than 1,500 of the Nexo, and even though the Mirai has been in production for two generations, there have been less than 11,000 sold in total. The lack of infrastructure and the popularity of electric vehicles as the go-to alternative to internal combustion engine cars means they are not nearly as popular as the automakers may have hoped.

Comparison with Other Alternative Fuels

In 2023, hydrogen remains one of the least popular engine types on the market. When compared to other options like EVs, hybrids, y plug-in hybrids, the lack of infrastructure for hydrogen refueling stations and a general dearth of knowledge that the public has about its potential means hydrogen has a long, uphill road before it can gather any traction. That being said, the possibility of near-zero emission vehicles is still worth considering as time goes on.

While it may seem like hydrogen is impractical and that electric vehicles are the more efficient and eco-friendly option, when you break down the true cost of production for EVs, the answer isn’t so clear. EV batteries require the mining of precious metals like lithium, cobalt, and platinum. These mining practices have huge repercussions on the environment and can cause serious problems down the line. It should also be noted that when batteries wear out, they need to be properly disposed of, which can be difficult and costly. As the expense and ecological impacts of EV batteries come more into focus, hydrogen could still become a viable option.

Government Policies and Support

One of the ways that hydrogen can become a more practical and functional fuel source in the future is to have government support and policies in place. In 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy committed $7 billion in national and regional support for hydrogen production for the transit and production industries. This initiative also includes funding and support for hydrogen innovations that are as clean and green as possible. This is a good start for making hydrogen fuel cells an industry standard for applications that produce the most greenhouse gasses and could be a great way to make it more acceptable to consumers.

Japan has also long been one of the leaders in hydrogen research and application in the automotive industry. A new initiative has promised to install over 900 hydrogen fueling stations in the country by 2030. Implementing the necessary infrastructure is the first step toward gathering consumer interest and making it a lot easier to own and drive a hydrogen vehicle.

The Economic Perspective

To get a proper idea of the true impact of hydrogen production and storage, it can be helpful to take a look at a single case. In 2018, the Northeast Electrochemical Energy Storage Cluster, or NEESC, did a study on its impact in the region and how hydrogen production could potentially impact a community on a global scale. The study found that the industry generated $1.4 billion in revenue as well as investment and created nearly 7,000 jobs. When scaled up, the hydrogen automobile industry could create wealth and revenue all over the world, all the while producing clean and green energy.

One of the big downsides of hydrogen production in the economic sense is that it is incredibly expensive at the outset. The storage and production costs are astronomical and will require huge investments in the industry. Transporting hydrogen also remains a challenge. Since it needs to be stored at incredibly high pressure, there are yet to be practical and cheap ways to transport it to stations around the country. Until these issues are solved, hydrogen remains an expensive and perhaps impractical alternative fuel.

Public Perception and Adoption

The public perception of hydrogen is written in the abysmal sales of the hydrogen cars currently on the market. With the accessibility and popularity of other alternative engine types like hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and EVs, there is simply no reason for the public to be invested in hydrogen as a viable alternative. That is until electric vehicle battery production becomes less practical, and we are on the hunt for another energy source.

One of the ways that the industry can improve public perception of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is to make them a priority. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do when the other alternative automobiles are selling so well. With the government investing in hydrogen research and development, though, it could well become more practical and inexpensive than ever before. As soon as it becomes more accessible, more people will be willing to try it and see if it will work for them.

Future Outlook

While the current hydrogen fuel industry is not as robust as it could be, several experts believe it will become more important than ever in the future. The International Energy Agency has found that the hydrogen industry is becoming much more accepted as a renewable and clean source of energy and that it is gaining momentum every year. It is thought that since hydrogen has been traditionally produced by burning coal, its reputation has been sullied. As that changes, public perception and perception in heavy industry will also change.

The agency also predicts that as solar and wind power sources become less expensive, so will hydrogen production. Cheaper, cleaner means of production almost always result in wider public acceptance, and the more infrastructure that is built, the more usable it will become to the end consumer. Innovations in power production drive one another, and hydrogen is no exception.

Protect Your Car Now and in the Future With Endurance

While hydrogen may not be a practical fuel source for vehicles in the present, the future could be very bright for fuel cells. If the industry decides to invest in the green, nearly-carbon-neutral production of hydrogen, it could be incredibly beneficial for both consumers and the environment alike. By knowing how hydrogen can help the automobile industry and why it is important, you can make the right decisions when the time comes.

No matter what kind of car you have, protecting it is essential. An extended warranty, which is more accurately called a vehicle service contract (VSC), is a great way to get the coverage you need when your factory warranty is up. Endurance has plans for vehicles of all kinds starting at just $99 per month. With coverage ranging from the most basic powertrain plans all the way up to bumper-to-bumper coverage and plans for high-end luxury vehicles, there is something for every budget and vehicle type. Endurance will also cover cars that other providers won’t. This includes high-mileage vehicles, Vehículos del mercado gris canadiense, coches con un título reconstruido o rescatado, and cars used for commercial purposes like rideshare and delivery. 

Endurance also offers a comprehensive suite of standard benefits with every plan, such as 24/7 roadside assistance, towing, rental car coverage, and trip interruption protection. Plus, for a small activation fee, you can also get access to Beneficios de élite, which includes extra perks like tire repairs, key fob replacement, and up to $1,000 in total loss coverage.

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