Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars More Viable With Cheaper, More Efficient Electrolysis?

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Hyundai Tucson Fuel-Cell vehicle enters production

Hyundai Tucson Fuel-Cell vehicle enters production

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Whatever you think of hydrogen-powered vehicles, recent technology-sharing deals have shown the automakers themselves are beginning to push towards fuel cell vehicles.

Among other issues, it's hydrogen's production causing a few issues for the burgeoning industry--it's neither very efficient, nor suitably cheap.

Both these factors are now about to change--or at least, are heading in the right direction.

As Green Car Congress reports (via Autoblog Green), the cost of producing hydrogen through electrolysis--the process of splitting hydrogen from water--is starting to fall.

It's as a result of the technology used for the electrolysis process steadily improving, making the process more efficient and liberating more hydrogen from the same energy input.

UK-based ITM Power has reduced the production cost of hydrogen from $9.57 per kilogram last year, to $6.44/kg--a reduction of 32.7 percent. Those figures include a ten-year capital amortization period. After amortization, that cost falls to $4.13 per kilogram, 22.9 percent down on last year's equivalent figure.

This has come as a result of an 11 percent improvement in output from new, more efficient "stacks", the modules in which hydrogen is extracted from electrolysis. ITM can now produce up to 27.9 kg of hydrogen per day, per stack (446 kg per day in total), with 77 percent efficiency.

What all of this means is that the hydrogen itself can be sold cheaper, and whatever vehicle it powers will be part of a more efficient, less energy-intensive system.

While there are few direct comparisons in the automotive world to illustrate the cost, ITM does compare the cost of running Hyundai's ix35 (or Tucson) fuel-cell vehicle against that of its diesel equivalent, sold in Europe. While the diesel would cost 45.4 cents per mile to run (based on a European combined economy figure of 41 mpg), the fuel cell vehicle would cost only 22.7 cents per mile.

These figures would naturally change in the U.S, where diesel doesn't cost over $8 per gallon, and hydrogen production still has a way to go before it's a truly low-energy process.

But, like electric vehicles, hydrogen appears to be taking the baby steps it needs to one day become a viable alternative fuel.


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Comments (24)
  1. "This has come as a result of an 11 percent improvement in output from new, more efficient 'stacks'..."
    Would need a 300% improvement to match the efficiency of a BEV regardless of the source of electricity.

    Improvements in electrolysis are a good thing. Particularly, if we can produce the hydrogen required for rocket fuel renewably. But hydrogen for ground transportation is just silly. Why invest in a ridiculously expensive hydrogen infrastructure when you can just charge at home most of the time?

  2. Or, given the infrastructure we already have for hydrocarbon delivery, develop onboard reformulation or SOFCs that can use gas or diesel more efficiently, until the higher-density batteries and charging infrastructure come online and down in cost?

  3. We have 10 hydrogen filling stations in the country, what infrastructure are you talking about?

  4. Hydrocarbons = gasoline, diesel, CNG, LPG, etc.

  5. Storing and shipping H2 produced is problematic. Plus, your car's H2 tank will have leakage over time. It is "almost electricity" if you think about it. A Li-Ion battery will store energy with far less losses than an H2 delivery system.

    H2 is best for space travel. An Air Products engineer told me that in 2012. And he works for a firm that creates a whole lot of H2 and would stand to benefit if an H2 fleet came about. He was showing off a $1 Million car with a H2 fuel cell at a renewable energy fair.

  6. What if we could through improvements produce adequate amount of hydrogen at home for our hydrogen cell vehicule?

  7. What adequate improvements do you imagine to produce hydrogen? You'd need a reformer or an electrolyzer....

  8. Improvements in at-home-production would be great. That would eliminate millions of dollars spent for each proposed hydrogen filling station.

    And if our FCEV had a slightly larger battery, we could store some of the power we would have used to make hydrogen with one third of the conversion losses. Giving us an immediate 300% efficiency boost.

    Then we wouldn't have to make advances in expensive storage technology that could capture protons jetting about under extreme pressures. And if we could somehow eliminate the need to constantly operate expensive, complicated fuel cell stacks onboard, we would save a lot of money and be much more efficient in using our available energy for our FCEV. Oh, but I've just described a BEV.

  9. I can easily make all the H2 I want for near free. But then what? If you can't use it right away the cost, hassle and ineff for compressing, storing and worse using it in a foolcell you end up with 30% at best eff vs 65% eff in an EV.

    And no one mentioned the cost or life or the power needed to run a high power foolcell. Why?

    Especially when just $1k/kw retail PV can power an EV for 25 yrs. But best is not having to buy $10/kg H2. you though oil was expensive!!

    Far better is just make NG ICE's like the our car companies make in other countries. And make all liquid fueled cars work on ethanol, methanol,butanal with or without gasoline, again they make these in other countries.

    Since oil in 5-7 yrs will be $10/gal, do it now.

  10. Hydrogen is the biggest scam going. It’s the big oil companies that are pushing hydrogen. They know it will probably never work out, and if it does, hydrogen will be made from natural gas, like it is now. Meanwhile, they’ve used the promise of hydrogen to delay other viable alternatives, like plug-ins. That’s why they call them Fool Sells. They are meant to deceive us. Classic red herring.

  11. There are only 10 hydrogen stations in the whole country! There are 6331 public chargers and you can find even more on PlugShare.com, so there is no competition.

  12. And EVERY house can be a Level 2 charger! So that means about 1,000,000:1 ratio...


  13. He said "public".

  14. We should make a distinction on hydrogen powered vehicle. One is a BEV or series-hybrid like fuel cell based vehicle with battery back up. Another is the hydrogen powered ICE car.

    As far as series-hybrid or fuel cell based hydrogen power vehicle goes, it has some merit since it is solely used as an "extender". Assuming the cost of fuel cell and/or hydrogen is cheap enough, it might have some form of future if the hydrogen can be created from clean energy source.

    After all, all we are doing is transferring, converting and storing energy.

    If electricity-hydrogen-fuel cell-electricity can be cheaper and lighter than electricity-battery-electricity, then it will have some future. If not, then it is pointless.

  15. While I like your idea of a FCEV using the Fuel Cell as an extender, that is not how most if not all of the current FCEV demonstration vehicles are designed. Yes, they have a battery to provide additional transient performance, but the fuel cell is used more like a Honda IMA - you need the all the available power to merge onto the freeway. I came to this conclusion based on the specs of a few of the vehicles I could find. If you look at the kW rating of the motor, fuel cell and battery, you find that the battery frequently has only about half the rating of the motor, while the fuel cell has about 3/4 the rating of the motor. So, in order to achieve max acceleration, you must crank up the fuel cell.

  16. I think they design it this way because the car would be impossibly expensive if it had a decent battery electric performance, decent All Electric Range and the fuel cell as a range extender. They are trading out most of the battery to pay for the fuel cell.

  17. Sure, price is one major factor. But fuel cell size is also another consideration.

    I have more faith in battery improvement than fuel cell improvement.

    But a fuel cell would be a great REx and it is quiet and clean.

    Cost is the only issue.

  18. "If electricity-hydrogen-fuel cell-electricity can be cheaper and lighter than electricity-battery-electricity, then it will have some future. If not, then it is pointless."

    There's the problem. First it is much more expensive now, and both batteries and fuel cells are getting cheaper, but there is no reason to expect that fuel cells will be cheaper than batteries. Second electricity is the common denominator for energy as all other forms can be converted to it (coal power plants, nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, gas...) so hydrogen will be made with electricity or one of the previous list. Either way it is fair to say that you will never be able to make hydrogen for less than the equivalent electricity so it will always be more expensive.

  19. Well, storage density is different though.

    You can store far more energy in terms of hydrogen for a much longer range than what an equivalent weight battery can store. So, if range is absolutely necessary for it in special cases such as long distance expedition, then there might still be a place for hydrogen fuel cell if the price is reasonable.

  20. This story shows just how far hydrogen has yet to go before it's a viable fossil-free solution. If you read the source article at GreenCarCongress.com you will see that this "new improved" electrolysis plant requires 55kWh of electricity to make 1 kg of hydrogen. The ix35 FCEV cited, can only go 64 miles on that 1kg of hydrogen. So, that's less than 1.2mi/kWh of electricity input. My RAV4 EV is relatively similar to the ix35 and mine gets about 3.0mi/kWh of battery energy. Taking out the charger efficiency, I still get more than 2.5mi/kWh of utility power. That's more than 2 times the return on energy. Maybe some of these solar catalytic nano-structures will work. However, you'll still have to use power to compress the hydrogen.

  21. The Honda FCX Clarity goes about 240 miles on 4.4kg of hydrogen. But a Tesla Model S could be charged 3 times on the 242kWh of electricity, so it could drive 795 miles on the same energy.

    And that doesn't even count the transportation and compression of the hydrogen?


  22. But you can store easily 40KG of hydrogen onboard to get about 2,000 miles of range going to middle of nowhere. But it would be hard to do that with a BEV.

    Sure, that use case is small. But for some applications there are need for that extra long range where a battery won't be able to do.

    I agree that for mass car market, the appeal is very limited.

  23. Even at the future estimate of $4.13/kg, the cost of producing the hydrogen (not including the costs of transporting it, and compressing it to 10,000PSI - and no profit, either) means it would cost over $18 to fill the 4.4kg capacity of the FCX Clarity.

    The FCX Clarity has a range of about 240 miles, so that is 7.5¢/mile - which almost 2X more than it costs for electricity for the Tesla Model S. And that is the full cost of electricity - if you put solar panels on the roof of your house, that can significantly lower the cost.

    Hydrogen fuel cells last about 75K miles right? And they must cost many 10's of thousands of dollars?

    So, what *exactly* is the advantage of hydrogen?


  24. The advantage is to the oil companies, who will own and operate the hydrogen stations. This way you will still be their customers. They are also smart enough to convince governments around the world to foot the bill for fuel cell development, and then for the hydrogen infrastructure. They will then sit back and collect the profits with little capital investment.

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