2. The pros and cons of hydrogen-powered cars for users
The pros and cons of a particular propulsion technology can be seen from two main perspectives: that of the user, and that of the environment. If any technology is to succeed as an alternative to the combustion engine, it must be user-friendly and significantly reduce the emission of pollutants. We’ll start by examining the key benefits and disadvantages for drivers/owners of hydrogen fuel cell cars – with the help of Axel Rücker, Program Manager Hydrogen Fuel Cell at the BMW Group.
Advantages for users:
- The propulsion in hydrogen fuel cell cars is purely electrical. When you drive one, it feels similar to driving a regular electric car. What does that mean? Virtually no engine noise and a lively start, because electric motors provide full torque even at low speeds.
- Another advantage is the quick charging time. Depending on the charging station and battery capacity, fully electric vehicles currently require between 30 minutes and several hours for a full charge. The hydrogen tanks of fuel cell cars, on the other hand, are full and ready to go again in less than five minutes. For users, this brings vehicle availability and flexibility into line with those of a conventional car.
- For the time being, hydrogen cars still have a longer range than purely electric cars. A full hydrogen tank will last around 300 miles (approx. 480 kilometers). Battery-powered cars can match this with very large batteries – which in turn will lead to an increase in both vehicle weight and charging times.
- The range of fuel cell vehicles is not dependent on the outside
temperature. In other words, it does not deteriorate in cold weather.
Current disadvantages for users:
Currently, the biggest shortcoming of hydrogen fuel cell cars is the sparsity of options for refueling. A hydrogen engine is refueled at special fuel pumps. These in the future will probably find their way into ordinary service stations. As things stand, however, there are still very few refueling stations for hydrogen-powered cars. At the end of 2019 there are only around 40 in the U.S., as compared to approx. 80 in Germany.
“We have a chicken and egg problem with hydrogen fuel cell technology,” explains BMW expert Rücker. “As long as the network of refueling stations for hydrogen-powered cars is so thin, the low demand from customers will not allow for profitable mass production of fuel cell vehicles. And as long as there are hardly any hydrogen cars on the roads, the operators will only hesitantly expand their refueling station network.”
BMW’s homeland of Germany leads the way in terms of infrastructure for hydrogen fuel cell cars. In order to promote the expansion of refueling infrastructure there, vehicle manufacturers like BMW have joined forces with hydrogen producers and filling station operators in the Clean Energy Partnership initiative, which plans to expand the hydrogen fueling station network to 130 stations by 2022. That would allow the operation of about 60,000 hydrogen cars on Germany’s roads. The next target, with a corresponding increase in fuel cell vehicles, will be 400 stations by 2025. More fueling stations are also needed in neighboring countries to actually make it possible to travel outside Germany via FCEV, according to Rücker.