Should I Buy A Hydrogen Fuelled Electric Car?

Toyota Mirai Hydrogen fuelled electric vehicle

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Have Much In Common With Other Types Of Electric Vehicles 


I know what you are thinking.  Another confusing acronym for an aspiring EV buyer to learn!  I fear I have the same reaction.  But don’t worry, let me make this as simple as possible, for both you and me!  

  • Yes, a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), also known as fuel cell vehicle (FCV) or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, is an electric vehicle (EV). 
  • In a battery electric vehicle (BEV) i.e. an all-electric car, the vehicle is powered by an onboard EV battery, while in a FCEV, the EV is powered using a fuel cell stack, that generates electricity through a chemical process involving oxygen and compressed hydrogen.
  • Yes, you guessed it correctly.  There is no internal combustion engine (ICE) in a FCEV. Yes, ICE is the technology that powers conventional petrol and diesel cars. Yes, ICE is the same technology that pollutes your air. 
  • FCEVs are not recharged like BEVs.  Instead, FCEVs are refuelled with hydrogen, just like filling up a tank of fuel in a conventional car.
  • In both, a hydrogen-fuelled car and an all-electric car, the wheels are driven by electric motors. 
  • FCEVs have a tailpipe, unlike 100% battery electric vehicles.  However, the tailpipe in a FCEV only emits water vapour (a by-product of the process within the fuel stack) and no pollutants.
  • FCEVs have a fuel tank for filling hydrogen, while BEVs have no fuel tank.  A battery electric vehicle has a battery.
  • Both FCEVs and BEVs are ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) and both vehicles are zero-emission driving i.e. zero pollution. 
  • Both BEVs and FCEVs are approved for the UK government grant towards the purchase of a eco-car. 

In All Probability You Have Travelled In A Hydrogen Vehicle, But Never Really Noticed It


Hydrogen-Fuelled Electric Bus
Hydrogen-Fuelled Electric Bus (credit: london.gov.uk)

Many of you may have travelled in a bus fuelled by hydrogen, as these have now been piloted in a few cities across the UK.  In 2011, Transport for London, commenced operation of ten zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell buses. This fleet has now covered over 1 million emission-free miles. As of end 2018, 120 fuel cell vehicles were in operation with public and private fleet owners in the UK. 

Though hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are still at relatively early stages, in terms of model lineup and hydrogen refueling stations (HRS) infrastructure, the potential for scale is exponential.  FCEVs have the advantage of long ranges and of course much quicker refuelling stops compared to recharging an EV battery. 


Should I Buy A Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Instead Of A Battery Electric Vehicle?


Toyota Mirai Hydrogen-Fuelled Electric Car FCEV
Toyota Mirai Hydrogen-Fuelled Electric Car (credit: Toyota)

Before I answer this, let me make one thing clear.  For your next purchase, always choose an ultra low emission vehicle (ULEV) instead of a polluting diesel or petrol car.  It is a no-brainer! 

As for a fuel cell electric vehicle, I would suggest waiting for now.  The number of available FCEV production models in comparison to BEV models are limited.  In the UK, the current available FCEV models include:

  • Hyundai NEXO Fuel Cell 
  • Toyota Mirai 
  • Honda Clarity Fuel Cell 

Some other manufacturers like Mercedes Benz, have announced plans to introduce FCEV models. Apart from limited models, there are only limited volumes available for the UK market.  For example, the Toyota Mirai will have 15 cars available for sale this year.  In the case of the Honda Clarity, it is not currently available to buy in the UK (expected to be on sale in 2022).

However, coupled with limited production models, the hydrogen public refuelling infrastructure in the UK is very limited.  As of end 2018, only 11 publicly accessible refuelling stations were available. 

Do not get me wrong. I certainly like FCEVs. And without an iota of doubt, hydrogen fuel cell cars are another excellent replacement to polluting diesel and petrol cars.  In fact, apart from the significant environment benefits of an FCEV, models like the Hyundai NEXO look great and can get you from London to Sheffield and back without refuelling.  The FCEV has a WLTP range of 414 miles and can certainly alienate any concerns regarding range.  While the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, that was introduced at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, can achieve 385 miles.  Real world driving range seems closer to 300 miles for FCEVs.

Hyundai NEXO Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle
Hyundai NEXO Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (credit: Hyundai)

In terms of performance, the NEXO can reach 0 to 62 mph in 9.54 sec, with a maximum speed of 111 mph.  The Toyota Mirai can clock 0 to 60 mph in 10.1 sec and achieve 111 mph top speed. Though not a fast as a Nissan Leaf, but faster than a Renault Zoe. 

There are numerous reasons to buy a fuel cell EV, but in my view, at this point, a potential buyer will achieve more ‘value for money’ with a BEV.  It is  not only the acquisition price (NEXO: £68,856 and Mirai: £65,219), but also residual values (RVs) that matter.  For BEVs the RVs, though still in the process of being established, are certainly firmer and clearer than FCEVs.  Of course, in time, as the FCEV model lineup increases, the hydrogen fuelling infrastructure improves and demand increases, residual values will become clearer and more attractive for FCEVs.   

However, for those FCEV die hard fans, for whom ‘hydrogen is the new oxygen’, I would certainly not stop you from acquiring your favourite fuel cell electric vehicle. 



Author

Ashvin Suri

Ashvin has been involved with the renewables, energy efficiency and infrastructure sectors since 2006. He is passionate about the transition to a low-carbon economy and electric transportation. Ashvin commenced his career in 1994, working with US investment banks in New York. Post his MBA from the London Business School (1996-1998), he continued to work in investment banking at Flemings (London) and JPMorgan (London). His roles included corporate finance advisory, M&A and capital raising. He has been involved across diverse industry sectors, to include engineering, aerospace, oil & gas, airports and automotive across Asia and Europe. In 2010, he co-founded a solar development platform, for large scale ground and roof solar projects to include the UK, Italy, Germany and France. He has also advised on various renewable energy (wind and solar) utility scale projects working with global institutional investors and independent power producers (IPP’s) in the renewable energy sector. He has also advised in key international markets like India, to include advising the TVS Group, a multi-billion dollar industrial and automotive group in India. Ashvin has also advised Indian Energy, an IPP backed by Guggenheim (a US$ 165 billion fund). He has also advised AMIH, a US$ 2 billion, Singapore based group. Ashvin has also worked in the real estate and infrastructure sector, to including working with the Matrix Group (a US$ 4 billion property group in the UK) to launch one of the first few institutional real estate funds for the Indian real estate market. The fund was successfully launched with significant institutional support from the UK/ European markets. He has also advised on water infrastructure, to include advising a Swedish clean technology company in the water sector. He is also a member of the Forbury Investment Network advisory committee. He has also been involved with a number of early stage ventures.

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