The Reasons Why Hydrogen Cars Failed

A blue Toyota Mirai 2nd Gen

1. Current State of the Auto-Industry:

As of 2024, many changes are taking place in the automotive industry. Increased restrictions have caused automakers to lower displacement figures and rely on turbocharging technologies. EV line ups are being increased while others have been focusing more on tech, refinement and autonomous driving systems. In the recent 5 years companies have been paying greater attention to EV ‘s, which are getting more accessible and refined every day, and on the other hand companies like Koenigsegg are managing to squeeze out insane figures from a tiny 3-cylinder. And it is during this transition, that a new player has emerged, that player being Hydrogen. This post discusses hydrogen vehicles, the need for their adoption and the reasons for their failure.

2. Why Hydrogen?

Before we dive into H-Based cars, we need to know the reason for its existence as an option for an energy source. Well, Hydrogen has many characteristics that make it a tempting energy source. It is freely available, is a clean and futuristic energy source, has high energy density, is versatile and is another route away from gasoline. While it has its graces, putting them to use correctly and efficiently is a challenge.

3. How Hydrogen Cars Work:

The working of hydrogen cars is more similar to electric vehicles than you think. First of all, pressurized hydrogen is stored in onboard tanks. The heart of the hydrogen car is the fuel cell stack, which has the multiple fuel cells. The stacks consist of an anode (negative electrode), a cathode (positive electrode), and an electrolyte membrane between them. The hydrogen is fed into the anode where an electrochemical reaction takes place. The hydrogen molecules are split into protons and electrons at the anode. Protons pass through the electrolyte membrane, while electrons travel through an external circuit, generating an electric current. The electric current is then used to power the motor, driving the wheels. Hydrogen cars, like EV’s also have regenerative breaking, which means that energy is generated when breaking, that can be reused. the only by product produced is water.

4. The Reasons Why H-Cars Failed:

Hydrogen cars, touted as a clean and sustainable alternative to traditional gasoline vehicles, have faced numerous obstacles on their path to mass adoption. Despite significant investments and research efforts, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have struggled to gain traction in the automotive market. Following are the reasons why hydrogen cars failed.

(i) Limited Infrastructure:

One of the most significant hurdles for hydrogen cars has been the limited infrastructure for producing, distributing, and refueling hydrogen. Unlike gasoline or electricity, hydrogen infrastructure is sparse, making it inconvenient for potential customers to refuel their vehicles. The high cost of building a hydrogen refueling network has hindered its expansion, leading to a vicious cycle where the lack of infrastructure discourages vehicle adoption, and low vehicle numbers discourage infrastructure investment.

(ii) Energy Efficiency:

Hydrogen production is energy-intensive, often relying on fossil fuels or electricity generated from fossil fuels. This raises concerns about the overall environmental benefit of hydrogen cars, as the energy efficiency of the entire hydrogen production and distribution process is lower than that of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). BEVs directly use electricity, while hydrogen cars must first produce, store, and transport hydrogen before converting it back into electricity, resulting in energy losses at each step.

(iii) Cost and Fuel Cell Technology:

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is expensive compared to other propulsion systems. The high cost of fuel cells, hydrogen storage, and related components has kept the purchase price of hydrogen cars significantly higher than conventional vehicles and BEVs. Additionally, the durability and reliability of fuel cells have not yet reached levels comparable to internal combustion engines or batteries. For reference, you can get an MG4 EV for about $35K, while Toyota Mirai costs close to $50K.

(iv) Safety Concerns:

Hydrogen is highly flammable and requires careful handling, storage, and transportation. Safety concerns have slowed the development and deployment of hydrogen infrastructure, as well as created apprehension among potential consumers. The perception of safety risks associated with hydrogen fuel has been a significant barrier to widespread adoption.

(v) Lack of Automaker Commitment:

Some automakers initially invested in hydrogen technology but later shifted their focus to BEVs due to market demand and regulatory pressures. This inconsistency in commitment has hindered the development and marketing of hydrogen cars, leaving consumers uncertain about the long-term viability of these vehicles.

(vi) Government Policies and Regulations:

The reasons why hydrogen cars failed include the factor of government policies and regulations. While some regions have supported hydrogen technology with incentives and subsidies, others have prioritized BEVs or other clean energy solutions. Inconsistent and fragmented policies have created uncertainty for both automakers and consumers.

5. Hydrogen VS Electric:

Comparison image of a Tesla and a Toyota Mirai

The emergence and rapid advancement of BEVs have diverted attention and resources away from hydrogen cars. BEVs have garnered significant market share due to their well-established charging infrastructure, lower operating costs, high efficiency and improved battery technology. This fierce competition has made it challenging for hydrogen cars to gain market relevance.

6. Some Available Hydrogen Cars:

Image of four H-Based cars

Due to less consumer interest, not many companies have introduced H-lineups. While some have made an effort to showcase hydrogen’s capabilities. Some hydrogen-based cars include:

  • Toyota Mirai
  • Hyundai Nexo
  • Honda Clarity Fuel Cell
  • Riversimple Rasa
  • Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL

7. Potential:

Hyundai N-Vision 74

Reading all this and you might think all hope is lost, well technically that is true, but just for now. With manufacturers like Hyundai taking interest in Hydrogen, confidently flexing its awesome N-Vision concept, there is still hope. Just like EV’s faced challenges initially, so will hydrogen. It would take some time to see where it gets.

8. Conclusion:

The failure of hydrogen cars to achieve widespread adoption can be attributed to a combination of technical, infrastructural, economic, and environmental challenges. While hydrogen remains a promising energy carrier with potential applications in other sectors, the hurdles facing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the automotive market are significant. Hydrogen cars do not seem to have much of a future unless energy efficiency is improved, and costs are reduced to match EV’s.

9. Hydrogen Cars Failure:

Summarizing the above:

  • Limited Infrastructure
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Cost and Fuel Cell Technology
  • Safety Concerns
  • Lack of Automaker Commitment
  • Government Policies and Regulations
  • Competition from BEV’s (Battery Electric Vehicles)

For Further Reading:

How does a Hydrogen vehicle work?

Also Read:

Image Credits: Top Gear, Autocar

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