Stated simply, a fuel cell vehicle combines hydrogen with oxygen to cause a chemical reaction that in turn produces electricity which charges the storage batteries that power the vehicle while driving. Most of the world’s hydrogen is created using a method called steam–methane reforming (SMR) using natural gas.
The not insignificant problem is that burning natural gas contributes to global warming. And that is contrary to what the production of electric vehicles is fighting: namely climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Therein lies a major hurdle for hydrogen producers to cross over. If we truly want to save the planet, hydrogen producers need to develop technology for decarbonizing the burning of natural gas.
Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Face an Uphill Climb
For now work continues on making trucks that will run on hydrogen fuel cell technology. At present, there are few trucks running on hydrogen fuel cells. The technology faces similar hurdles as battery electric trucks: lack of infrastructure for fueling and refueling, and short working range.
We wouldn’t buy a car if we didn’t have places to refuel it; and we wouldn’t build refueling stations if there aren’t enough vehicles that need them. Presently, it’s a regular catch 22. Without supply there’s no demand and without demand there’s no supply. Makes your head hurt, doesn’t it?
So far, some fleet owners believe electricity is the way to go, and they think that producing hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks will be competitive with battery electric trucks, creating demand for both and driving down prices. We hope that is so, but it’s very early in the game.
The hype for hydrogen fuel cell electricity is that using hydrogen mixed with the oxygen in air to create electricity has a tailpipe emission of water vapor. That’s right: zero tailpipe emissions, perfectly clean burning. Another significant advantage of the hydrogen electric fuel cell truck is that it can be fueled much quicker than it takes to recharge a battery electric truck
Green Hydrogen Would Help.
Green hydrogen is made from the electrolysis of water using green sources of energy like wind or solar generated hydro. Hydrogen made this way is created without any threat to the planet. It is truly zero emission power. But again, infrastructure to produce and provide this gas is not yet available for widespread use.
Hydrogen will require widely available distribution meaning the need for it to be trucked in or piped in or both. Safe handling and storing practices must be adopted and readily available to all handlers and users of hydrogen. Original Equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will need to build trucks and special trailers to safely transport the gas to end users. Hydrogen is shipped, stored and used at high pressures.
The weight of a hydrogen electric truck is reported to be heavier than that of a comparable diesel truck but exact numbers are really unknown at this point. Also believed to be comparable to the weight of a battery electric truck. This creates a need for OEMs to trim weight from tractors and trailers in new builds to avoid diminishing payload.
OEMs are Developing Hydrogen Fuel Cell Trucks
Nikola Motor Company offers a hydrogen electric fuel cell day cab semi-truck. It’s available in North America. The company also has a battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric cabover available in Europe and North America. Very sleek looking trucks. Other OEMs are investing in hydrogen electric truck development.
Transportation needs hydrogen electric trucks and battery electric trucks for providing safe future habitation of this fragile and compromised planet. If not for us, for our children and their children and so on.
Meanwhile, freight must continue to move around the clock to sustain us all. Technology must find a way to save the world with green hydrogen and battery electric trucks.