Though battery electric vehicles (BEVs) continue to lead the way in clean transportation, discussions over fuel cells emerge every so often. Because their input fuel (hydrogen and oxygen) is renewable and they emit very few pollutants, fuel-cell electric vehicles offer some tantalizing prospects for the future of transportation. However, uptake of fuel cells in the mainstream automobile market has been virtually non-existent and it is unclear whether this innovative technology will gain traction anytime soon.
Today we’ll take a look at the main barriers to fuel-cell adoption and discuss why it is likely battery-electric vehicles will continue to be the logical clean transportation choice long into the future.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars
Despite the renewability of the individual elements of oxygen and hydrogen, processing these inputs into a usable power source is prohibitively expensive and inefficient. The technology required to convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity would make cars so expensive that they would be out of reach for the majority of American consumers.
Secondly, should fuel-cells actually make advances in the automobile market, there is practically no infrastructure in place to deliver hydrogen to the vehicles. It would require a massive build-up of “fill up” locations around the country, which then would require a huge investment of time and money. There is not a way to deliver hydrogen to all these stations in a cost-effective manner.
Finally, the sustainability of hydrogen has been called into question due to its emissions-intensive production process. Producing hydrogen requires the combustion of natural gas, which emits a sizable amount of greenhouse gases into the air. In fact, the US Department of Energy found that when analyzing “well-to-wheel” emissions, fuel cell vehicles only save 45% when compared to conventional gas-powered vehicles.
Lithium Battery Cars
Meanwhile, lithium-ion battery powered vehicles have advanced at a steady rate over the past five years, and have now achieved some momentum in the automobile market. The cost associated with EVs is fast approaching parity with gas vehicles (in fact, many life-cycle analyses show EVs can be cheaper), and studies show that EV owners are some of the happiest automobile drivers.
Furthermore, the electrical infrastructure is pretty much already in place, only requiring commercial charging stations to tap into the power source. Just about any home owner or business can install EV charging stations on-site, no gas station needed. Many retailers have already jumped on the opportunity to provide charging stations for customers, thus solidifying EVs as the logical way forward in clean transportation.
In conclusion, while fuel cells do offer some potential benefits for the future of clean transportation, there are some major hurdles to overcome if they are to achieve some viability. Even if fuel cells were to miraculously overcome these barriers 10 or 20 years from now, the battery-electric vehicle market would be well underway by then and so entrenched as a clean transportation option that consumers would be hard-pressed to make the switch again.