Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Electric and hydrogen vehicles are based on two technologies leading to the same goal of sustainable and environmentally-friendly mobility, leading them both to be the major protagonists of the coming decades in this field.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages, their distinctive features and different development processes. Perhaps in a few years' time they will replace the diesel/supercar dichotomy of the last few decades, and consumers will have to decide between electric and hydrogen cars.
Sales figures for alternative vehicles are steadily improving, and it is clear that consumers are increasingly opting for new technologies. In the first quarter of 2022, one in three sales was of a zero- or low-emission passenger car, with 35% of the market share.
Non-plug-in hybrids recorded the highest number of sales in the early stages of 2022, with 47,565 units, representing 24% of the total market. Meanwhile, electric vehicles already accounted for 9.6% of sales in the first quarter of the year, with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids accounting for 4.31% and 5.34%, respectively, of the vehicle registrations recorded.
For its part, the market for hydrogen vehicles in Spain is practically nonexistent, although there has been commercial supply since 2015. From January to March 2022, only five units were registered in Spain.
How does each technology work?
The main difference is that electric vehicles have a battery—battery electric vehicle (BEV)—while hydrogen vehicles use a fuel cell—fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV).
Both technologies can be defined as electric vehicles, with the difference that instead of being charged by connecting them to the electric grid, hydrogen vehicles generate electricity on board thanks to a chemical reaction. That means that it is not charged with a plug, but it contains tanks that mix hydrogen with oxygen to create the driving force.
This mixing takes place in a fuel cell, which generates electricity and water. The resulting energy is stored in batteries to power the engine, while the remaining water is discharged as steam through the exhaust pipe. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, are powered by an electric motor, which draws energy from the rechargeable batteries installed in the car.
Filling up and autonomy
A hydrogen vehicle is filled up in a similar way to gasoline and diesel vehicles today, so the time required does not exceed three to five minutes. For its part, electric recharging is taking steps to become faster every day. One example of this can be found in IONITY ultrafast chargers, a joint venture created by the Volkswagen Group (including Audi and Porsche), BMW Group, Ford, Hyundai Motor and Mercedes Benz AG.
These charging stations are compatible with most electric vehicles, allowing power ratings up to 350 kW, seven times faster compared to a regular charger (50 kW). In addition, they use the combined charging system (CCS), the most widely used European standard.
In Spain, IONITY has reached an agreement with Cepsa with the aim of creating the largest public intercity electric mobility network on the Iberian Peninsula at the energy company's service stations. The goal is to cover the main intercity roads in Spain and Portugal and the connection routes with the rest of the European continent by installing high-power charging stations in strategic locations.
They also differ in terms of autonomy. Hydrogen vehicles have a higher mileage possibility, similar to gasoline vehicles. Examples of some of the few models available on the Spanish market include: Toyota Mirai (up to 650 km) and Hyundai Nexo (666 km).
Electric vehicles, on the other hand, have more limited autonomy, which varies greatly depending on the model, although this is one of the areas in which the sector invests the most in R&D, with results that can be seen year after year.
Another major difference lies in the development of each of the technologies. The global automotive sector has been actively committed to electric cars for years, with a wide variety of versions and models, while hydrogen cars still have very low production, and most brands have not yet decided to invest in this type of energy.
This makes for a big difference in terms of recharging possibilities. The number of electric vehicle charging stations and points continues to grow in Spain and, of course, in the rest of the world, while hydrogen refueling points are very scarce.
However, although the vehicle manufacturers' association Anfac claims that there are more than 11,000 recharging points of all power ratings in Spain, the employers' association points out that this figure is insufficient and below that of many European countries. In fact, it proposes a national plan for the deployment of electric vehicle charging points, with binding targets and financed by brands, electric utilities and public administrations, reaching 70,000 points in 2023, 100,000 in 2025 and 340,000 in 2030.
They point out that the lack of charging points is one of the biggest barriers to the penetration of electric vehicles in Spain, which is at the bottom of the ranking of European nations in terms of electrification, and emphasize that if this infrastructure development is not accelerated, the country, the second largest producer in Europe and eighth in the world, will lose production.
Even so, this figure contrasts with the number of hydrogen refueling stations. In this regard, Anfac and the Association for the Promotion of the Use of Natural and Renewable Gas (Gasnam) recently presented the "Deployment map for the minimum hydrogenerator network" that Spain should have; 150 hydrogenerators by 2026.
The economic aspect must also be taken into account when analyzing the differences between one technology and the other. In this section, the high price of hydrogen models is notable, due to the small number on the market. As an example, both the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo are above €60,000.
According to a study analyzing the total costs of using different types of cars by the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) and the European Climate Foundation, an electric car is currently the cheapest if you take advantage of the aid of the Moves III Plan.
The total cost of an electric car is 56,000 euros in 11 years of use, according to the study, compared to 65,000 euros for a compact car with a gasoline engine, and 89,000 euros for a hydrogen car.
One thing that both technologies have in common is that they have the DGT Zero Emissions label, which means great advantages for both the purchase and use of the vehicle. While purchasers of these vehicles will have to pay 21% VAT, they will be exempt from paying registration tax, which has different brackets depending on the grams per kilometer of CO2.
The European Commission wants at least one hydrogen refueling station to be installed every 150 kilometers of road in the TEN-T network of European connections by 2030, and it is also expected to be developed in other sectors such as maritime transport, rail and aviation.
In addition, the commission also puts the focus on biofuels through the Fit for 55 proposal, which raises the level of ambition for advanced biofuels to 2.2% of transport sector energy consumption and introduces a target of 2.6% for hydrogen and synthetic hydrogen-based fuels in the sector.
On the other hand, commercial aviation will have to progressively mix biofuels with kerosene, a fuel that will be subject to a new tax, and all ships docking in EU ports will have to use less polluting fuels.
In short, the electric car and the hydrogen car are two different technologies that will be able to coexist with other energy sources in the future. While electric vehicles are ahead in the second phase, hydrogen is still at an early stage of development, although there is capacity to enhance this technology and make it equal to electric vehicles or more widely used in public transport.