The Hyundai Nexo and the Toyota Mirai have a fuel cell on board that turns hydrogen into electricity. The technology works, but doesn’t really take off. Why is that?
It’s not the cars’ fault. The Toyota Mirai is economical, comfortable and dynamic, and for families with children there is the spacious and practical Hyundai Nexo. Driving on hydrogen is actually remarkably unobtrusive, because the drive is electric so the driving feel is familiar fare. With the pleasant side effect that you never have to unroll or plug in a charging cord.
On the other hand, the Mirai and the Nexo are expensive; you don’t have to cough up 70 million euros for an electric car with a large battery. Moreover, all your future car vacations will be in Germany, because only there can you fill up with hydrogen in many places. But now we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Where are the hydrogen stations?
Four years ago we drove the Hyundai Nexo for the first time. At that time there were four hydrogen stations in the Netherlands and the aim was to open the twentieth filling station by 2020. That didn’t work out. There are currently six hydrogen filling stations in the Netherlands and the distribution is unfair: there are five in the Amsterdam-Arnhem-Rotterdam triangle and Groningen has the sixth.
Border residents can swerve to Antwerp, Aachen and Osnabrück. In Germany the counter currently stands at 94 and especially around Düsseldorf you cannot throw a stone without hitting a hydrogen pump. So whether it’s smart to buy or lease a Nexo or Mirai depends largely on where you live and where you go. On the h2.live website you can see if a hydrogen filling station is being built in your area.
How much does hydrogen cost for cars?
One kilo of hydrogen costs 12.10 euros. So if you fill up 5 to 6 kilos, you lose 60 to 70 euros. A full tank of gasoline is more expensive, but with most cars you get more kilometers out of it. Filling up with hydrogen in Germany is a little cheaper; you pay 9.50 euros per kilo there. That makes a difference of ten euros per tank of fuel. Cash register!
Hydrogen cars are not efficient
It takes about 50 kWh to produce one kilo of hydrogen. You can travel 100 kilometers with one kilo of hydrogen, provided you drive economically. But if you were to put those 50 kWh directly into the battery of an electric suv, you would get more than twice as far. How is that possible?
Energy is lost in making hydrogen (about 25 percent) and there is also energy loss in converting hydrogen into electricity (about 40 percent). Pile these losses on top of each other and of the 50 kWh put into production, eventually only 22.5 kWh remain to drive the electric motors. And 22.5 kWh/100 km is close to what an electric suv consumes. One way to straighten out these lopsided ratios is to make hydrogen from power that is “left over. But that’s certainly not the norm.
In the Netherlands there are still few places where you can fill up with hydrogen. Germany sets a good example with about 100 filling stations, so it is possible. Then there is the issue that driving on hydrogen is inefficient, because with the energy it takes to cover 100 kilometers, an electric car with a large battery pack can cover more than 200 kilometers.
Not to mention the complex technology that also takes up a lot of space: a fuel cell, an electric motor, two or three high-pressure tanks and a small lithium-ion battery so that power is always available and recovered braking energy can be stored. In the case of the Toyota Mirai, there is only just enough room left for passengers …