Move over Petrol,
Move over Diesel,
Move over Lithium-Ion
Hydrogen is what is going to power our cars now!

Yes, hydrogen-powered cars. Probably the least popular amongst car manufacturers. An alternative fuel with a dwindling future. Tesla supremo; Elon Musks called hydrogen cars “mind-bogglingly stupid” and that “success is simply not possible” with hydrogen-powered cars. Contrarily, a 2017 study by KMPG amongst 1,000 automobile executives found that hydrogen fuel cells have a better prospect against electric cars. So, what’s up with hydrogen-fueled cars? Is it here to stay or will simply fade away. GoMechanic finds out.

Hydrogen power | How does it work?

Hydrogen is one of the simplest and most commonly occurring chemical element that makes up around 75% of our universe. Hydrogen powered cars are basically electric cars with full-fledged electric motors, but instead of a battery pack (that is the power source), there is a hydrogen tank and a fuel cell which provides electricity to the motors.

How does hydrogen produce electricity?
Well, we will try to skim the technicalities but, here it goes:

Hydrogen is converted into electricity through an electrochemical reaction. Similar to a battery, a hydrogen fuel cell has three major components: a positive terminal, a separating electrolyte and a negative terminal. Hydrogen is run through the positive terminal at high pressure and oxygen is fed through the negative. The positive terminal is made of a very precious and rare-occurring metal known as Platinum, which acts as the catalyst. Upon reaching the positive terminal, the hydrogen atoms are split into electrons and protons. The protons (being positively charged) flow to the negative terminal through the electrolyte and the electrons flow through the circuit. This electrochemical reaction produces electricity that drives the electric motors. Finally, the electrons and protons recombine with oxygen at the negative terminal which produces water that exits through the exhaust pipe.

Hydrogen fuel cells are conventionally known as PEM or Polymer Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells.

Is hydrogen the fuel of the future?

There is no clear answer to this question. The community stands divided with hydrogen-powered cars. Here how.

Yes.

  1. Recharging an electric vehicle can take hours and even days (if the amps are not enough). Refuelling a hydrogen-powered car takes the same time as fuelling a petrol car.
  2. Lithium-ion or lithium-polymer batteries used in electric cars lose their charge holding capacity over time. There is no such impact with a hydrogen fuel cell.
  3. Hydrogen fuel packs find the best use in a larger vehicle for which battery-powered vehicle can struggle.
  4. If the hydrogen generated at the source is driven by renewable energy then, using fuel cells removes greenhouse gases from the cycle.
  5. There is no need to be grid-dependent as hydrogen can be essentially produced anywhere with a source of water.

No.

  1. Producing hydrogen is an expensive process and when it comes to efficiency, hydrogen scores a measly 75% energy efficiency.
  2. Transporting hydrogen fuel is risky. Hydrogen gas has to be transported as a liquid which is extremely flammable and leak and punctures can lead to explosions.
  3. Hydrogen is not exactly clean. The fuel cells produce Nitrogen Dioxide which is a toxic gas and is harmful to humans.
  4. Availability is also an issue. Hydrogen fuel stations are scantly available for the limited numbers are hydrogen-powered cars on the road.

Hydrogen-powered cars in India?

Globally, automotive giants like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai have successfully put hydrogen-powered cars on the road. There is the Toyota Mirai, which debuted in Japan in 2014 and is available for purchase in most developed countries. Subsequently, Honda introduced the Clarity in 2016, which is its own iteration of a hydrogen-powered car. Hyundai also took a swing with it Nexo which was showcased in the 2018 Indo-Korean Business Summit.

Tata Motors in association with ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) has developed hydrogen-powered transport utility vehicles namely; Tata Starbus Electric 9M, Tata Starbus Electric 12M and Tata Starbus Hybrid 12M.

The Government of India, in its effort to curb pollution, already offers a subsidy with the purchase of an electric vehicle.
The GST council has announced a slash (28% to 12%) in duties with hydrogen-powered cars.

As far as India is concerned, automotive manufacturers shy away from introducing hydrogen-powered cars due to the fear of poor sales. Then there’s Infrastructure and transportation posing the greatest challenge with the hydrogen cars. Even conventional electric cars, available in India are bottlenecked by technology and infrastructure. Therefore, India presents a tricky situation for the introduction of hydrogen-powered cars.


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Akshat Ajeya

Lead, Content & Creatives at GoMechanic | Automobile Scale Model Collector | DIY guy | Consumer of many foods |

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