Hydrogen-powered electric cars using fuel cells seem like the ideal solution to pollution woes and dependence on imported oil. They don’t use combustion but rather an electro-chemical reaction whose only major byproduct is water.
Some car manufacturers have built hydrogen-powered passenger cars, including Ford Focus FCV, Chevrolet Equinox Fuel-Cell Vehicle, Honda FCX Clarity, Hyundai Santa Fe FCEV, Toyota Highlander FCHV and Volkswagen HyMotion. And the federal government has committed millions of dollars to do research on fuel cells and hydrogen issues. But daunting technical and infrastructure challenges make it unlikely that fuel-cell cars will get beyond the prototype stage for decades to come.
Manufacturing costs are now about a hundred times that of an equivalent gasoline car, and reliability and life-span issues are still being addressed.
“The heavy-duty trucking industry is quite focused on hydrogen from a longer-term, longer-range perspective.”
Other problems for this technology include where to get the hydrogen and how to get it to the vehicle.
While hydrogen is abundant, it’s almost always bound up in minerals, hydrocarbons or water and needs to be extracted. It takes more electricity to make the hydrogen than the hydrogen generates in a fuel cell.
Hydrogen gas carries very little energy per cubic foot, so it must be stored on a car at very high pressures up to 10,000 pounds per square inch (psi). Storing it in liquid form takes too much energy to cool it, and the hydrogen evaporates. The government is working on other storage methods, but so far all have so far proven too heavy and too costly.
“The heavy-duty trucking industry is quite focused on hydrogen from a longer-term, longer-range perspective,” said John Tully, vice president of business development and alternative fuels at Pilot Co., Knoxville, Tennessee. “But that whole ecosystem needs to get built out. It’s getting a lot of attention from the Inflation Reduction Act. It’s getting a lot of attention with the Department of Energy hubs that are getting built out, and we’re looking at adding in a couple of locations, but I think that’s going to be a couple years behind the trucking EV side.”
Adds Marc Rowe, general manager of fuel sales at Trillium Energy Solutions, a division of Love’s Family of Companies, “We think there’s good momentum for hydrogen in over-the-road trucking. Trillium … has positioned itself as an industry leader in hydrogen fueling infrastructure in the U.S.”