In the end, almost everything will be going green. In the push for greener vehicles and sustainable power, two clear frontrunners have emerged: Hydrogen and electric. Both offer unique advantages and distinct challenges. We’re going to delve into the pros and cons of hydrogen and electric power and explore how hydrogen fuel cells may be the key to powering heavier commercial vehicles in the future.
Who are the frontrunners of new fuel for the ground transport sector?
Hydrogen Power: Advantages and Challenges
Hydrogen vehicles emits zero carbon emissions from their exhaust pipes. That obviously gains it entry into the race to be the energy of tomorrow. Hydrogen cars also offer the convenience of quick refuelling times comparable to traditional petrol and diesel models. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, can take significantly longer to charge.
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Hydrogen can be produced through different methods. Each has variations in its environmental impact. Green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis using renewable energy sources, is a highly sustainable and carbon-neutral option.
On the other hand, grey hydrogen is produced through steam methane reformation, which releases carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.
There is also brown hydrogen, which is produced from coal and is less environmentally friendly. Biogas-derived hydrogen presents a sustainable alternative, as it utilises organic waste as a renewable source.
The infrastructure for hydrogen fuel is still underdeveloped, and there are a limited number of filling stations available in many regions. The energy-intensive production process of hydrogen creates a challenge too. While hydrogen can be produced from renewable sources, such as electrolysis through solar or wind power, it requires financial investment and infrastructure to make it a sustainable and cost-effective option.
Just like its competitor, the electric battery, Hydrogen’s success depends on it being the chosen fuel of the majority of the population. Without that, the infrastructure and costs involved are immense.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology
Fuel cell technology offers a promising alternative for powering vehicles. By converting hydrogen gas into electricity, fuel cells generate power for electric motors. The only byproduct of this process is water vapour, making fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) environmentally friendly and quiet in operation.
Fuel cell technology has gained pretty big traction in the ground transport and commercial vehicle sector. Manufacturers like Daimler Truck AG predict a substantial shift toward hydrogen power, with 70% of their vehicles expected to be hydrogen-powered by 2030. The main reason is that FCVs allow for longer driving without charging, as well as faster charging times than EVs.
The weight of the batteries that will currently be needed to power HGV’s is another issue for the technology to overcome in the commercial sector. Road sufaces may simply not be able to accommodate the weight of the new vehicles as well as their load.
However, limited hydrogen fuel infrastructure, higher upfront costs, potential emissions from hydrogen production, and storage challenges make the emergence of fuel cell technology into the mainstream not without its obstacles.
Electric Power: Benefits and Limitations
Electric power has already gained huge traction both in the transportation sector and in wider society, thanks to how it reduces emissions and improves air quality. Although there is much more is to be done, the infrastructure for electric charging stations is already widespread, allowing for greater convenience and accessibility. On top of that, rapid advancements in battery technology are enhancing the driving range and performance of electric vehicles.
That isn’t to say that electric power doesn’t have limitations. Charging times for EVs can be lengthy compared to refuelling with hydrogen, and the driving range may still be limited for certain models. The fear of being stuck somewhere without charge is still too big a risk for lots of motorists, especially ground transport professionals.
Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) continues to demonstrate high demand for pure electric vehicles. Although opponents of EVs also highlight the environmental impact of extracting the raw materials as well as the energy required to create the batteries in high volume. Detractors point to a European Environment Agency (EEA) report released in 2021 that stated CO2 emissions from the manufacture of electric cars are 59% greater than those required for the production of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles. However when an EV begins its lifecyle the bulk of its environmental detriment has already been felt. Where as an ICE vehicle will continue to generate tailpipe emissions for as long as its road worthy.
Additionally, the cost of upgrading the electricity grid to support a growing number of EVs will be hugely expensive over time. With rapid charges needed in public spaces to support more agile use of the vehicles by those on long journeys or without access to home charging facilities.
Hydrogen Versus Electric – Conclusion
It’s great that there are some genuinely viable options for the future of fuel. Right now, each has pros and cons, but nothing fills the exact hole that fossil fuels leave.
Hydrogen fuel cells have zero emissions and make refueling easy. However, the infrastructure isn’t in place and production needs to be faster and cheaper. Electric battery powered vehicles, with their reduced emissions and established infrastructure, continue to evolve as the frontrunners for the sustainable revolution in the consumer market. However hydrogen is fast becoming the heralded fuel of the commercial sector.
As we strive for zero-emission transportation, a mix of fuels and practical solutions tailored to operational needs will likely play a vital role in the transition away from fossil fuels.
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