8 votes

What are your views on hydrogen powered vehicles?

Do you think they will be the next big thing, or end up being impractical in the long run?

17 comments

  1. [5]
    spctrvl Link
    For ground vehicles? Totally impractical, since we've got to set up massive refining, distribution, and storage networks for an element that's pretty difficult to store and pipe around. When...

    For ground vehicles? Totally impractical, since we've got to set up massive refining, distribution, and storage networks for an element that's pretty difficult to store and pipe around. When you're looking at needing to invest hundreds of billions in infrastructure before hydrogen cars even start to approach the utility of petrol ones, battery electric cars look like the more practical alternative, since electricity is dirt cheap and already available everywhere. Batteries are also much greener, since battery charging and discharging is a lot more efficient than the fuel cell cycle.

    But where hydrogen fuel could have a future is in air travel. You can build conventional jet engines that burn hydrogen, the required infrastructure buildup is much smaller, and with the energy densities we're talking, I highly doubt that batteries are ever going to be able to handle long haul flights.

    11 votes
    1. KapteinB Link Parent
      Unlike gasoline, hydrogen can be produced locally, at least in places with good access to fresh water. Joe Scott did a video on hydrogen fuel cell cars a while back, where he explains some of the...

      Totally impractical, since we've got to set up massive refining, distribution, and storage networks for an element that's pretty difficult to store and pipe around.

      Unlike gasoline, hydrogen can be produced locally, at least in places with good access to fresh water.

      Joe Scott did a video on hydrogen fuel cell cars a while back, where he explains some of the advantages/disadvantages/challenges of both fuel cell cars and battery cars. I think the most important takeaway from the video is that fuel cell cars can coexist with battery cars, and while they don't have all the advantages of battery cars, they do have some of the advantages of gasoline cars.

      5 votes
    2. [2]
      dubteedub Link Parent
      You dont need to have a hydrogen station on every street corner like gasoline for fuel cell vehicles to take off. Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai who are selling these cars now in California have said...

      When you're looking at needing to invest hundreds of billions in infrastructure before hydrogen cars even start to approach the utility of petrol ones

      You dont need to have a hydrogen station on every street corner like gasoline for fuel cell vehicles to take off. Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai who are selling these cars now in California have said that you just need to have one within 6 minutes of where you live or work. California is investing only $20 million annually to build about 100 stations through 2024 (they are at about 40 now), this funding is matched by private industry.

      battery electric cars look like the more practical alternative, since electricity is dirt cheap and already available everywhere

      Except for people that dont have access to home garages that they can charge their car in overnight. If you have off street parking, multi family dwelling, or otherwose without access to home charging, then battery cars are not viable for you.

      Fuel cells on the ktherhand operate in the same model that we have today where you can drive 300 to 400 miles on a tank of hydrogen fuel, when you run low you go to a central fueling station, swipe a credit card, and fuel up in 3 to 5 minutes.

      Fuel cells can help bring zero emission cars to a broader consumer population than just bbatteries alone, and both will be needed to reach our transportation emissions goals.

      Batteries are also much greener, since battery charging and discharging is a lot more efficient than the fuel cell cycle.

      Both fuel cells and batteries are 100% emissions free when the hydrogen or electricity comes from renewable sources. California madates that at least 33% of hydrogen for fuel come from renewable sources, which puts it on par with electricity.

      Regardless of the source of electricity or hydrogen, both also dramatically reduce emissions compared to gasoline on a well to wheels basis

      But where hydrogen fuel could have a future is in air travel.

      I have also read a lot about how fuel cells are far more practical for medium and heavy duty vehicles compared to batteries and think Toyotas class 8 truck demonstrations in the Ports of Long Beach and LA are very promising.

      3 votes
      1. spctrvl Link Parent
        But there's a reason there are so many gas stations, namely the millions of other drivers that also need to fill up. 140 stations in California gives you about one station for every three hundred...

        You dont need to have a hydrogen station on every street corner like gasoline for fuel cell vehicles to take off. Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai who are selling these cars now in California have said that you just need to have one within 6 minutes of where you live or work. California is investing only $20 million annually to build about 100 stations through 2024 (they are at about 40 now), this funding is matched by private industry.

        But there's a reason there are so many gas stations, namely the millions of other drivers that also need to fill up. 140 stations in California gives you about one station for every three hundred thousand people. There's going to need to be tens of thousands of stations nationwide before hydrogen vehicles are anything but toys for the rich.

        Except for people that dont have access to home garages that they can charge their car in overnight. If you have off street parking, multi family dwelling, or otherwose without access to home charging, then battery cars are not viable for you.

        I mean, charging stations both exist and are way, way more common than hydrogen refueling stations. Any business with parking can get in on the game by dropping a few grand, whereas with hydrogen, you basically need dedicated buildings.

        Both fuel cells and batteries are 100% emissions free when the hydrogen or electricity comes from renewable sources. California madates that at least 33% of hydrogen for fuel come from renewable sources, which puts it on par with electricity.

        Right, but regardless of if it's coming from renewable sources, using the electricity directly, i.e. to charge BEVs, is greener since it uses much less of it to accomplish the same goal, leaving more available to replace carbon-generating sources in the grid.

        Regardless of the source of electricity or hydrogen, both also dramatically reduce emissions compared to gasoline on a well to wheels basis

        That's just not true. Leaving out the fact that hydrogen generation is almost entirely done by steam reforming natural gas, which directly releases carbon into the atmosphere, the reduced efficiency compared to BEVs means that, even if you're using electrolysis, if the energy to produce the hydrogen is coming from fossil fuel plants, you're doing worse on emissions than a gasoline car. The electricity to hydrogen to fuel cell to motor efficiency is about 25-30%, and the efficiency of large scale fossil fuel plants is around 40%, so you're talking about 12% overall efficiency, compared to 20%ish for ICEs. BEVs do better than either running off of fossil fuels, since they're usually more than 75% efficient, so you get at least 30% efficiency in using fossil fuels for motive power.

        I have also read a lot about how fuel cells are far more practical for medium and heavy duty vehicles compared to batteries and think Toyotas class 8 truck demonstrations in the Ports of Long Beach and LA are very promising.

        Between the required infrastructure buildup, the energy inefficiency, and the storage and distribution problems, I think it'd end up being better to just use biofuels for the edge cases. Not as sexy and futuristic as hydrogen, but more doable with existing infrastructure and vehicles, and if it's less than 10% of vehicles that need to be chemically fueled, existing ethanol and biodiesel production should be more than sufficient.

        2 votes
    3. Sahasrahla Link Parent
      In addition to air travel, another interesting area for hydrogen is marine shipping. Shipping contributes about 3% of carbon dioxide emissions and often uses very dirty fuel. I don't know how much...

      In addition to air travel, another interesting area for hydrogen is marine shipping. Shipping contributes about 3% of carbon dioxide emissions and often uses very dirty fuel. I don't know how much of a push there is for hydrogen technology on ships but I found this (slightly old) article on the topic.

      1 vote
  2. [5]
    Neverland (edited ) Link
    I am not a fan of the technology. I mean there could some specific uses cases where H fuel cells are ideal, but not in cars. For one thing it would keep the refining and distribution of fuel a...

    I am not a fan of the technology. I mean there could some specific uses cases where H fuel cells are ideal, but not in cars. For one thing it would keep the refining and distribution of fuel a thing. Also, hydrogen comes mostly from natural gas currently, so that keeps fracking going.

    I greatly prefer batteries. For one thing you can easily generate the power yourself, which helps end the ability of giant companies to set the price of your fuel. I can’t find the definative link now, but I have read that the theoretical maximum efficiency of the H fuel cell system is lower than that of lithium batteries, in a car.

    3 votes
    1. [3]
      Dup_dup Link Parent
      Well, hydrogen can be produced from water via electrolysis, but this is only about 80% efficient.

      Well, hydrogen can be produced from water via electrolysis, but this is only about 80% efficient.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        Silbern Link Parent
        The problem with that though is that if we're already using elctricity to generate hydrogen, why not just use electricity directly? Hydrogen would have to be substantially more efficient than...

        The problem with that though is that if we're already using elctricity to generate hydrogen, why not just use electricity directly? Hydrogen would have to be substantially more efficient than electricity to make up for the distribution networks required, and electrolysis is more expensive and time consuming than fracking or direct hydrogen gathering unfortunately.

        5 votes
        1. MimicSquid Link Parent
          There's actually been a recent development in solar panels that generate hydrogen instead of electricity. It's not yet efficient enough to be practical, but it would solve much of the distribution...

          There's actually been a recent development in solar panels that generate hydrogen instead of electricity. It's not yet efficient enough to be practical, but it would solve much of the distribution issue, and would also provide, in stored hydrogen, a power source that doesn't depend as entirely on advances in batteries.

          2 votes
    2. dubteedub Link Parent
      I don't really see how switching to a new fueling system is bad if that system dramatically lowers our transportation sector emissions? Considering that most of our electricity also comes from...

      For one thing it would keep the refining and distribution of fuel a thing.

      I don't really see how switching to a new fueling system is bad if that system dramatically lowers our transportation sector emissions?

      Also, hydrogen comes mostly from natural gas currently, so that keeps fracking going.

      Considering that most of our electricity also comes from fossil fuels right now, I don't see why this should be cause to hold off on hydrogen. Especially since the hydrogen industry has committed to fully decarbonize by 2030. The same can hardly be said for electricity.

      I greatly prefer batteries. For one thing you can easily generate the power yourself, which helps end the ability of giant companies to set the price of your fuel.

      I think that is great for folks that have a home garage, but for people life myself who live in an apartment complex without access to a charger, if we only pursue batteries, that will severely limit the number of folks who could adopt a zero emission vehicle.

      3 votes
  3. [2]
    hungariantoast Link
    I suppose it entirely depends on what you mean by "hydrogen vehicles" as there are two main ways to use hydrogen for fuel. First of all, there are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which use hydrogen...

    I suppose it entirely depends on what you mean by "hydrogen vehicles" as there are two main ways to use hydrogen for fuel.

    First of all, there are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which use hydrogen cells to generate electricity to power a vehicle's electric drivetrain, then there are hydrogen combustion engines, which are, remarkably, the exact same thing as our current combustion engines, just with extensive modifications and strengthening to run off the new fuel type.

    I don't know nearly enough about either to really say if they'll ever see widespread adoption, but I could imagine both types of hydrogen powered vehicles being popular for shipping trucks, or vehicles that have to regularly make long trips.

    Another area I could see hydrogen internal combustion engines picking up is automotive racing and enthusiast circles. It's more costly to outfit an engine with components to make it run off hydrogen, but it's staggeringly simpler than many realize. Hydrogen gives piss poor amounts of power compared to gasoline, but with refinement and the right vehicular platform it could become a lucrative, environmentally friendlier alternative for automotive enthusiasts.

    What a lot of people forget about electric vehicles is that they're incredibly heavy, and despite the hype, I remain unconvinced that super dependence on batteries is actually a better alternative than hydrogen as a fuel source, but the jury is absolutely still out on that one. In the future, if a person wants to retain the weight, style, and feel of their classic vehicle but doesn't want to pay the gas tax, hydrogen combustion is the only way to go, because batteries are just too damn heavy. Electronic vehicle conversions are changed drastically from their original.

    Besides, I have to be honest, I love the sound and feel of an internal combustion engine. I've driven electric vehicles and the instant torque delivery is nice, but what it delivers in power it totally lacks in feel and sense. Now, I don't know how hydrogen internal combustion engines compare in sound and feel to our current gasoline engines, but if we ever get to a point where I could reliably convert my cart from gasoline to hydrogen, and retain the power, the sound, and the feel of the engine, along with reliable fuel stations, I'd be willing to make the switch.

    2 votes
    1. dubteedub Link Parent
      There is a lot of activity in the medium and heavy duty fuel cell transportation space right now. Toyota, Hyundai, Kenworth, and a start up company Nikola motors are all getting heavily involved...

      I could imagine both types of hydrogen powered vehicles being popular for shipping trucks, or vehicles that have to regularly make long trips.

      There is a lot of activity in the medium and heavy duty fuel cell transportation space right now. Toyota, Hyundai, Kenworth, and a start up company Nikola motors are all getting heavily involved in the class 8 truck space with hydrogen fuel cells.

      2 votes
  4. [2]
    pseudolobster Link
    Hydrogen is basically only useful as a battery. It takes energy to produce it, and it releases energy either through burning it or by passing it through a fuel cell. There's no such thing as a...

    Hydrogen is basically only useful as a battery. It takes energy to produce it, and it releases energy either through burning it or by passing it through a fuel cell. There's no such thing as a hydrogen mine we can tap from. There is no abundant source of it on earth. The only way we get elemental hydrogen is through electrolysis and other ways of removing it from molecules containing it. This is a zero-sum game though. Newton's laws say there's no way to gain any energy here, you can only lose it.

    Could hydrogen fuel cells be a good battery? Maybe. Lithium-ion battery tech has outpaced it though, and nowadays delivers more power density, efficiency, and safety than hydrogen. Until we come up with a portable fusion generator, I kinda think hydrogen is a dead-end.

    1 vote
    1. Dup_dup Link Parent
      Iirc lithium hasn't outpaced in power density, (hydrogen is about 200x more power dense), but batteries are more efficient.

      Iirc lithium hasn't outpaced in power density, (hydrogen is about 200x more power dense), but batteries are more efficient.

  5. [2]
    markh Link
    I don’t know anything about them. Where can I learn more?

    I don’t know anything about them. Where can I learn more?

    1. Dup_dup Link Parent
      There are some good in-depth videos on youtube about how they work. The wikipedia page also has some nice information.

      There are some good in-depth videos on youtube about how they work. The wikipedia page also has some nice information.

  6. vakieh Link
    I just want to point out that solar powered vehicles are also hydrogen-powered vehicles when you think about it. Most energy sources are.

    I just want to point out that solar powered vehicles are also hydrogen-powered vehicles when you think about it. Most energy sources are.