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An Introduction to Hydrogen Vehicles

We hear a lot about the development of electric cars and rightly so. But there’s another alternative vehicle technology that’s less talked about. And it’s reliant on the most common chemical element in the universe. Hydrogen.

There are hydrogen cars on UK roads and while you might be hard-pressed to spot one right now, manufacturers (notably Toyota, Honda and Hyundai) have already produced hydrogen models. There are even Hydrogen range extenders available that increase the range of electric vehicles and any diesel vehicle can be converted to run on Hydrogen as a hybrid vehicle, that will have zero emissions.

The UK Government is also financing the development of hydrogen-powered vehicles and infrastructure. In March 2017, it announced a £23 million fund to accelerate that development, with transport minister John Hayes saying at the time that “hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles can play a vital role alongside battery electric vehicles to help us cut harmful emissions.”

Part of that infrastructure development can be the new, small-scale, self-contained, Hydrogen refuelling station from CPSL-Group, that can be located in a company’s car park and make Hydrogen for a company’s fleet of vehicles from rainwater and sunlight.

With that in mind, here’s a little more information about hydrogen vehicles.

How do hydrogen cars work?

Hydrogen-powered engines go back a lot further than you might think. More than two centuries ago, French inventor Francois Isaac de Rivaz developed a primitive engine that was powered by hydrogen and oxygen and ignited by an electric spark.

These days, it’s mostly about fuel cells – but the same elements are still very much at the heart of the chemical reaction that takes place in a hydrogen car.

Essentially, in a fuel cell vehicle, there are no moving parts, it’s just the chemical reaction that ‘fuels’ the action. It sees hydrogen enter the fuel cell from a tank and mix with oxygen to create H2O in a chemical reaction, which generates electricity that is used to power the motors that drive the wheels.

Hydrogen tanks are refuelled in a process that’s pretty much the same as with a petrol or diesel car. You just need to lock a pipe to the car and wait. The cost of filling the tank is also comparable at around £10 per kg. If a company creates their own Hydrogen, this cost can be as low as £3 per kg.

Hydrogen cars: the pros and cons

So, what are some of the advantages of hydrogen vehicles?

- Faster refuelling: compared to recharging an electric car, a hydrogen vehicle can be fully fuelled in three to five minutes.

- No harmful emissions: the only thing to be emitted from a hydrogen fuel cell car is water.

- An impressive range: with a range of around 300 miles per tank, hydrogen cars are on a par with many conventional vehicles.

- Good efficiency levels: Fuel cell powertrains are much more efficient at getting energy out of hydrogen than traditional cars are at getting energy out of petrol or diesel.

And what about the disadvantages of hydrogen cars?

- Refuelling locations: there are currently only 17 refuelling stations in the UK and each station costs £1.3 million to build. More station are being developed all the time though and companies can create the fuel themselves at the companies offices with the new self-contained refuelling station from CPSL-Group.

- Expense: Although the cost of fuelling a hydrogen car is similar to traditional fuels, developing the technology isn’t cheap and nor is storing or moving hydrogen itself.

- Perceived safety risk: hydrogen is flammable – but then again, so is petrol and that hasn’t stopped us from driving millions of petrol cars.

The development of hydrogen cars

Hydrogen vehicle development is at a relatively early stage in the UK. However, as mentioned above, some manufacturers have already taken the plunge and developed models based on the technology, while others are being planned.

The Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity and Hyundai iX35 can be found in limited numbers on UK roads, with the iX35 due to be replaced by a new model in 2018.

Renault already supply the Renault Kangoo electric van with a Hydrogen range extender and range extenders can be retrospectively fitted to any electric vehicle, in fact one has even been fitted to a Tesla sports car.

Mercedes-Benz is due to bring out a hydrogen version of its GLC range. This reflects a general embracing of hydrogen technology in Germany, where 23 new hydrogen stations are currently being built across the country.

And that’s not all. The sky’s the limit for hydrogen-powered transport, with a four-seater hydrogen aeroplane making its maiden flight in Germany last year and being hailed as a major leap towards decarbonising air travel.

So watch out for hydrogen technology. It could be coming to a street – or airport – near you.

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