Hailed as the future of clean energy, hydrogen was, at the turn of the century, the fuel that was going to power us forward. Fast forward to the present day and there are more electric vehicles than hydrogen powered cars on the roads, and the big news stories on renewable energy mostly have to do with solar and wind energy. What happened?
As with most new technology, hydrogen fuel cell technology was an expensive endeavour. Promising as an alternative fuel, there were just so many technical limitations that had to be overcome for its widespread adoption into common use technology. When it comes to vehicles, there is still potential for hydrogen, and we are seeing initiatives to build out and support a network of refuelling stations which would allow for a gradual transition to hydrogen fuels.
Instead, electric cars, and hefty government incentives for the same, have come along and allowed this technology to grow. Its adaptability into our daily routine was as easy as running an extension cord to your car every night, and though range can be an issue, you don’t have to worry about finding a specialist fuelling station as long as there’s an electricity source nearby.
Range, however, does still limit many electric vehicles and there is a push for a more elaborate recharging infrastructure. Despite the hype surrounding battery-electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are still set to be one of the most important automotive key trends in the years to come.
Battery technology has severe limitations in terms of its durability (typical batteries will not perform well the older they get) as well as for many convenience of a quick charge (again without impacting the battery’s overall life). Continued investment in hydrogen infrastructure could see refuelling stations with turnaround times of minutes as opposed to hours (for electric charging) and could replace gasoline.
While much focus is on cars, road transport accounts for much of the world’s trade and battery-electric trucks are not yet the solution. With a focus on range and power, hydrogen fuel-cell technology may be able to fill this void and spill over to the consumer automotive sectors as a result.