With the rise of electric vehicles (EVs), it seems like gasoline cars are on the brink of extinction. However, there’s another player in the race towards cleaner transportation that’s been quietly evolving for decades: hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Hydrogen is Earth’s most abundant element and can be produced from various sources, including natural gas, coal, and even renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. Although hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) have not yet gained traction, the technology has the potential to revolutionize not only the passenger car industry but also the trucking industry, where it could provide a viable alternative to diesel.
The Toyota Mirai is currently the most well-known HFCV on the market, with the ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in 9 seconds and a range of 402 miles on a full tank of hydrogen. Toyota has also developed the GR Yaris Hydrogen Concept, a race car with an engine built to run off hydrogen, that provides a similar sound and feel of a gasoline internal combustion engine, yet with near-zero emissions. However, the lack of infrastructure to support the refueling of hydrogen-powered vehicles has slowed down its mass production.
Nevertheless, Toyota recently completed a successful test run of hydrogen-powered semi-trucks co-developed with Kenworth for commercial use in the Port of Los Angeles. The ZANZEEF project, from shore to shore, was a massive success, and Toyota plans to begin mass production of the powertrain next year in Kentucky. Kenworth projects that zero-emission truck production will ramp up from a few thousand now to 70,000 by 2030 and 180,000 by 2040, as many customers aim for zero-emissions goals in the next 10-15 years. Hydrogen powertrains have advantages over battery-powered electric options as they perform similarly to diesel drivetrains, provide range, and refuel in a reasonable amount of time.
In contrast to Toyota’s dominance in the HFCV market, Hyundai’s NEXO SUV has not sold as well as the Mirai. However, the company developed the first fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in the ix35 Fuel Cell, which was mass-produced and equipped with its own fuel cell. Hyundai recognizes that hydrogen energy is eco-friendly, storable, and portable, and highly efficient, and has been working on ways to “boost green hydrogen” through electrolysis, a clean method of extracting hydrogen.
While HFCVs are a promising technology with the potential to transform the transportation industry, several challenges need to be addressed. The most significant challenge is the lack of infrastructure for hydrogen fueling stations, with only 44 stations available in the United States. Building a sufficient network of stations would be costly and time-consuming, and hydrogen production is also an energy-intensive process. Another challenge is that hydrogen is highly flammable and requires proper handling and storage. Moreover, the cost of producing and storing hydrogen remains high, and the materials used for the fuel cells are expensive.
In conclusion, hydrogen-powered vehicles have the potential to revolutionize transportation, particularly in the trucking industry. They have many advantages over battery-powered electric options, but their mass adoption is hindered by the lack of infrastructure for refueling, high production costs, and the complexity of handling and storing hydrogen. However, as the technology continues to advance and the demand for cleaner energy sources increases, HFCVs may become a viable alternative to battery-powered electric and gasoline vehicles in the near future.