The moment for hydrogen fuel-cell passenger cars to play a major fuel in transportation has passed, and the window of opportunity is closing for heavy-duty trucks as well, according to a new study published as "comment" in Nature Electronics (via Charged EVs).
The study's author, from Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research and claiming to be free of competing interests, argues that improvements to the range and charging capability of battery-electric vehicles have cancelled out the main selling points of fuel-cell vehicles—long range and quick refueling times. Policymakers should now focus all efforts on promoting EVs, he argues.
EVs have already proliferated more quickly than fuel-cell vehicles, the study notes. At the beginning of 2021, there were about 25,000 fuel-cell passenger cars on the road, two models on sale (the Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai), and about 540 hydrogen stations globally. In comparison, the study's author predicts that by the beginning of 2022 there were likely about 15 million battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road.
2021 Hyundai Nexo
Even in trucking, where the need for large battery packs has been a limiting factor, battery-electric vehicles outnumber fuel-cell vehicles, the study said. EV range may still be too limited for long-haul trucking, however, potentially providing a niche for fuel cells, according to the study.
Proposed megawatt charging systems could swing the advantage back to EVs, but it isn't yet clear whether it will be less expensive than hydrogen, according to the study. The total cost of ownership will ultimately be the determining factor in whether fuel cells or batteries dominate in trucking, the study noted.
"Policymakers and industry need to decide quickly whether the fuel cell electric truck niche is large enough to sustain further hydrogen technology development, or whether it is time to cut their losses and to focus efforts elsewhere," the paper concluded.
Hyundai Xcient Fuel Cell semi truck to be used in California tests
It's not all bad news for hydrogen, though. The authors believe fuel cells could have a big future in aviation, shipping, and steel-making. Just not cars and trucks.
At least some automakers share that perspective. Volkswagen has laid out why fuel cells make no sense in cars. General Motors has closed the door on the tech in passenger vehicles, too, but sees it as a future tech for trucking and military uses. It's also looking at hydrogen for portable generators and, ironically, EV fast charging.
Not every automaker is giving up on hydrogen fuel-cell cars. Kia and Hyundai both have fuel-cell tech in their roadmap, as does Toyota.
The California Energy Commission has also released a rosy projection—that fuel-cell tech is expected to reach price parity with gasoline by 2025. That's based on the energy itself, not the vehicle tech or the cost of fueling stations.