Battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs) are gaining traction in popular culture as the alternative of choice to replace fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. Every major automobile company is moving toward the production of battery-powered vehicles, and consumers are beginning to adapt to this new reality.
While they are certainly an improvement, battery-powered EVs do present challenges. The electricity used to power them can still come from a fossil fuel power plant, which offsets the often-touted reduction in tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions the vehicles offer. In addition, the batteries themselves present the market with the challenging issue of what to do with them after their life cycle is over. Though companies that recycle lithium-ion batteries exist today, that industry is still in its infancy and is not ready to handle an overwhelming influx of batteries as the adoption of battery-powered EVs grows.
Hydrogen has all the advantages of a battery-powered EV, but you can generate electricity from onboard supply which saves on lengthy recharging time. Such cells are safe, reliable, and environmentally friendly, and the infrastructure to support their use can be replicated by converting existing refuelling stations (Figure 1).
As with all fossil fuel alternatives, hydrogen does have its critics, but those criticisms are often grounded in misinformation. One such myth is that hydrogen is too expensive to use as a widespread vehicle fuel source, despite empirical evidence to the contrary.
Hydrogen is not too expensive
Traditional fuel is currently cheaper than most hydrogen power, but that will soon change as hydrogen production scales up and becomes less expensive. Countries and organisations that play a major role in global oil production have committed to significantly reducing their production levels to prop up unsustainably low prices. This restriction in supply will likely raise prices for consumers who drive internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles dependent on fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, the price of green hydrogen continues to fall and is expected to do so even more quickly over the next decade. Experts suggest that within 10 years, hydrogen fuel will be cost-competitive with other mobility fuel sources. The costs for renewable energy sources – solar, wind, water, etc. – are also continuing to fall, and that trend is expected to affect hydrogen fuel costs. In addition, with governments across the globe enacting more stringent carbon dioxide emissions standards, hydrogen will be able to scale quickly with government subsidies incentivising its growth.
For example, the US Department of Energy (DOE) launched its Earthshots programme, which is specifically intended to encourage the development of hydrogen fuel in ways that will further reduce its costs. By as soon as next year, hydrogen fuel cell buses will be less expensive to operate than battery-powered and ICE buses, according to a study by Deloitte (Figure 2). In fact, projections indicate that green hydrogen will be less expensive than natural gas by 2050. All these trends point to hydrogen power becoming increasingly less expensive than other fuels, which could transform the transportation sector into a clean-energy powerhouse.
To make the hydrogen fuel economy go, a strong hydrogen fuel infrastructure will need to be built. The components used in the transport and refuelling stations must be able to withstand the specific challenges hydrogen fuels present. Whether it is the constant concern of hydrogen leaks or the long-term risk of hydrogen embrittlement, choosing components for the systems that are made of high-quality stainless steel can reduce the costs of unscheduled and potentially expensive maintenance. Working with a reliable and experienced fluid systems expert will allow companies to capitalise on the currently underserved hydrogen fuel market.
The bottom line
As hydrogen becomes a viable transportation fuel option, the misinformation surrounding its deployment will continue, including the myth that hydrogen is more expensive to deploy than traditional fossil fuels. This myth is being dispelled as prices for hydrogen fuel continue to drop, due to economies of scale, and traditional fuel prices rise thanks to production cuts by major oil-producing nations. Additionally, governments around the world are increasing their support for hydrogen fuels through government subsidies, which will drive prices down even further. At this point in time, there is no reason to believe that those trends will reverse.
Deploying hydrogen fuel on a global scale will require building both new and refitted refuelling infrastructure, and the components used in that infrastructure will have to withstand hydrogen’s uniquely challenging characteristics. Working with a fluid systems expert who has experience in the containment of small-molecule gases under pressure will give you confidence that your hydrogen fuelling stations will be safe, reliable, and profitable long into the future.