Hydrogen Car: What It Is And How It Works

As the years happen, the hydrogen car is gaining adherents. In an era where emission regulations are tougher than ever – and will increase their hardness – car manufacturers are increasingly striving to offer cleaner products with the environment — vehicles whose emissions do not damage the atmosphere that allows us to live.

In 2002, Toyota began working on this alternative propulsion system until the Mirai, presented in 2014, ended up. However, Honda moved ahead with the FCX Clarity. It began to market in the United States in July 2008, and, five months later, it did the same in the United States. Hyundai was also one of the first brands to bet on hydrogen, launching the ix35 Fuell Cell in 2013 and, more recently, the Nexus. The hydrogen car has not yet become massive like the electric or the hybrid, but let’s be patient.

BMW Hydrogen Car

How does hydrogen car work?

The basic concept is simple: to print kinetic energy on the wheels using diatomic hydrogen as fuel. An intermediate process called electrolysis is necessary: the elements of a chemical compound are separated using electricity, where there is a time of reduction (electrons are released) and oxidation (electrons captured).

A hydrogen car is an electric car. While it is true that the car with a fuel cell does not need a plug to refuel, the engine – or engines – responsible for driving the driving wheels is electric. An auxiliary battery provides immediate electric current to the propeller, recovering energy during the braking process. And instead of a heavy system of multiple storage cells, hydrogen deposits are placed on the floor.

But how is hydrogen capable of driving the car?

  • Hydrogen stored in fuel tanks. They usually housed under the rear seats or the trunk. Despite the low density of compressed hydrogen, it covers a large area, so the tanks subtract considerable space in the final design of the vehicle.
  • The oxygen aspirated, filtered, and compressed from the outside to inject into the cells that make up the fuel cell.
  • Inside the chamber, oxygen mixed with hydrogen (H 2 ), the result being electricity and water (H 2 O). Hydrogen oxidizes during reverse electrolysis and the electrons it loses form the electric current. The only emissions that will come out of the exhaust will be water.
  • Electricity sent to one or several batteries for storage. It does not go directly to the motor. In this way, there will always be energy at the driver’s request, and parasitic vibrations will avoid.
  • The stored electricity supplies the motor and, therefore, the movement of the driving wheels.


Advantages of a hydrogen car

The first is its condition as a “zero” car according to the emissions labeling of the General Directorate of Traffic. Being considered eco-friendly cars, they enjoy the same benefits that you already take advantage of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles. A factor can decisive in the case of living/working in a big city.

Unlike plug-in electric cars and hybrids, vehicles powered by a fuel cell do not need a plug or outlet to “charge the batteries.” The procedure for filling the hydrogen tank is similar to the refueling of any other car. They moved with petroleum products: a dispenser and a hose that seals to the mouth of the container.

An action that, in the words of the manufacturers, will only take five minutes in the so-called hydro generation centers. But there are few differences concerning any gas station. They will be sites with better safety devices –because compressed hydrogen is highly flammable–, and the large oil companies would not have to over-modify their usual suppliers, although their construction ranges between 500,000 and one million euros.

By having smaller batteries than electric cars, fuel cell vehicles get better performance on heavier models.

The autonomy of this type of car is similar to that of any other non-alternative vehicle. The first Hyundai Fuel Cell could approach 430 km between refueling. Now, the Nexus, its substitute, promises an autonomy close to 600 km. Considering that the price of hydrogen is below € 10 / kg and the average consumption is 0.9 kg / 100 km, the price per kilometer is quite acceptable expense, although it does not reach the cost levels of kW / h.

Disadvantages of a hydrogen car

In spite of the benefits that they suppose for the day today, the hydrogen cars have their endemic evil precisely in what they have conceived: to work with hydrogen. There is hardly a 375 hydrogen era globally, of which there are only six in Spain. In two years, there should be 1,100, and in 2030 the figure should be quintupled. And even then, they will be less than gas stations established in our country.

Due to the materials that are necessary for the fuel cell construction, the presumable cars of the future. According to some manufacturers, they are more expensive to develop and produce . Obtaining diatomic hydrogen is not cheap either, coming to be an investment far above other alternatives such as natural gas. Two hundred eighty thousand million dollars would have to be invested until 2030 to establish a hydrogen economy.

Nor has it been shown that the fuel cell provides great advantages in terms of thermal efficiency compared to electric vehicles. Observing the first two laws of thermodynamics, dividing water into hydrogen and oxygen consumes much more energy than can be used. The thermal efficiency of the motor is only 30%, and that of a good electrolysis process rarely reaches more than 50%.

Therefore, more energy is needed to make the vehicle move by refueling hydrogen than the vehicle itself that can extract from the resulting mixture between hydrogen and oxygen. A hydrogen car will always consume more kWh than its fully electric counterpart.

It must also take into account that, by regulation, the useful life of the fuel tank limited to 15 years. The power of the set is also affected, up to 15% after 225,000 kilometers taking the statements of Hyundai housing. Also, absolute power values ​​are more modest than those offered by electric ones. No car with a fuel cell has yet made that is dangerously close to 200 hp.

Finally, based on the fact that hydrogen is used as an alternative fuel to avoid damaging the atmosphere, its production does generate emissions. And the materials of the components form the powertrain of these cars extracted from mines. It transported in large cargo ships around the globe. The more the vehicles with a fuel cell become more widespread, the more harmful emissions will emit into the atmosphere.

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