Featured image by: Bexim, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
We have been hearing about the hydrogen fuel as an alternative to the fossil fuels for a long time now. The recent launch of the Toyota Mirai has again created a buzz for the possibilities of hydrogen fuel. With just 5 min of refueling, you can go upto 402 miles. Since it has no direct emissions, with enough refueling stations, it can become a feasible alternate to fossil fuel driven cars and probably a better alternate then the electric cars due to their current limitations of energy storage batteries. Not only that, it can solve various critical energy challenges across a number of sectors.
So, How real is it?
At its current stage, Hydrogen fuel poses some challenges. Since 1975 the global demand for pure hydrogen has been on a consistent rise. It has increased from nearly 18.2 million tonnes in 1975 to approx. 73.9 million tonnes in 2018. Currently, hydrogen gas is produced using industrial processes which use fossil fuels as a source. About 6 % of Global Natural gas and 2 % of the Global coal is used to produce hydrogen gas, which is then used for other purposes. It can also be produced by using water as a source by the process of electrolysis, the electricity for which can be sourced from the renewables.
The current cost of producing hydrogen fuel from fossil fuels is much lower (about 3 $/kg USD) as compared to the hydrogen produced from renewables (7.5 $/kg USD). But in long term, the cost of production from the hybrid solar PVs and Onshore wind farms will likely bring down the cost to less than 1.6 $/kg USD.
At present, less than 0.1% of global dedicated hydrogen production comes from water electrolysis. With declining costs for renewable electricity, in particular from solar PV and wind, the electrolytic hydrogen production will become much more viable. The ongoing research in the field, has also brought down the costs of Hydrogen fuel cells by 60% since 2006 and practically quadrupled the durability of the fuel cells which has been tested for more than 1,20,000 miles with only 10% degradation. All this brings electrolytic hydrogen one step closer to becoming one of the best alternates to the fossil fuels.
Oh, Do you wish to ask, why don’t we use electricity directly in the vehicles instead of using it to produce hydrogen? Wouldn’t that be much more convenient?
The answer is not so complex. Consider these factors; Battery Costs, Battery Capacities, Resources to Produce Batteries, health hazard caused by to the unsafe disposal of discarded batteries, and the mother of them all, the Recharge time and the range anxiety. I am sure, you do not want to spend 1 hour on a highway recharge station when you can fill up in just 5 mins and get a better range. Just fill and go.