Why hydrogen cars will never replace electric cars

At the Paris Motor Show, two French manufacturers presented their hydrogen car. Crédit Agricole has just announced that it has ordered 10,000 copies of Hopium Machina. But we explain to you why all this is not going in the direction of the fight against global warming.

Hopium Machina // Source: Frandroid

Hydrogen cars have been making headlines in recent weeks. In France alone, two startups are entering this market: Namx and Hopium. We saw the two hydrogen cars (Hopium Machina and Namx Huv) at the 2022 Paris Motor Show. Both promise very long ranges (between 800 and 1,000 km) and performance worthy of sports cars (0 to 100 km/h in less than 5 seconds). ). However, there is a very low probability that hydrogen cars will replace combustion or electric cars in the next few years.

The hydrogen car: a technological mirage?

The hydrogen car seems, on paper, to be an ideal solution. Moreover, it already exists, in particular with the Toyota Mirai. Hydrogen allows, in fact, to extend the range compared to electric cars and claim less than five minutes to refuel. Just like the electric car, it does not emit greenhouse gases during the driving phases.

But… the hydrogen car has many flaws, which will prevent it from replacing thermal and electric cars for years to come.

The low efficiency of hydrogen cars

The first problem with hydrogen is how it is produced. To be “clean”, hydrogen must be green, i.e. produced by electrolysis. The problem is that this means of production consumes a lot of energy, with many steps for its energy to move a vehicle to the end of the line. The energy efficiency of an electric car is around 60-80% compared to 10-30% for its hydrogen counterpart..

In other words, for 1,000 watt-hours of energy consumed on the electrical grid, only 100 to 300 watt-hours will actually be used to drive the hydrogen car, compared to 600 to 800 watt-hours for an electric car. With a hydrogen car, we lose energy, because of the different steps, from electrolysis to the fuel cell that powers the electric motor. In an electric car, the “road” is much more direct between the battery and the engine.

The question of energy demand

The problem with the efficiency of hydrogen-powered cars is the increased demand for energy. Switching the entire global fleet of cars to electric cars requires adaptations (but not as much, as can be seen in the French electricity grid). Doing the same with hydrogen-powered cars is a more complicated challenge, as the electricity consumption would be much higher.

Hydrogen presents other challenges, such asinstalling a charging network, which is much more expensive as charging stations dedicated to electric cars. But also the cost of green hydrogen, currently produced in very small quantities. The latter requires, in fact, “low carbon” energy (wind, photovoltaic panels, nuclear) to be produced. And obviously we need that energy for other uses around the world.

Hydrogen still has a future

Hydrogen is, of course, an energy carrier of the future. It will be used massively for heavy transport, which lithium batteries are not yet suitable for. This is the case, for example, in aviation, the maritime sector or land transport with very long distance trucks. But for all sectors where the lithium battery is suitable, hydrogen will not be, as it consumes a lot of energy, in addition to having a greater global warming potential than CO2 in case of leaks.

Furthermore, this is the recommendation of the latest IPCC report: reserve hydrogen for heavy transport. Therefore, one wonders why the hydrogen car currently occupies so much space in the automotive industry. In addition to the future hydrogen-powered BMW X5, Crédit Agricole took advantage of the Paris Motor Show to place an order for 10,000 hydrogen cars with Hopium, the famous startup that plans to produce the Machine by 2025.

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