Automotive industry

Jane Marsh – Can hydrogen take over the auto industry?

The problem is that petrol and diesel are bad for the environment – ​​and even electric cars have their downsides. Engineers have been touting the benefits of hydrogen fuel cells in vehicles for years. Why has this technology not caught on so much? Could hydrogen conquer the automotive industry?

Imminent ban on internal combustion

The world faces a looming deadline if it hopes to avert a climate crisis and preserve the planet for future generations. As a species, we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050 if we hope to avoid a massive climate crisis that could ultimately change the face of the planet. If we don’t, global warming will make the weather harsher, with hotter summers and colder winters, and potentially destroy fragile ecosystems. Like coral reefs, some are already feeling the effects of warmer, more acidic oceans.

Gasoline and diesel internal combustion engines (ICE) have been staples for over a century. Our reliance on fossil fuels to power our vehicles – and the sheer number of vehicles on the road around the world – plays a role in climate change, causing global warming. This has led many countries to consider banning petrol and diesel cars. Many European countries, including Denmark, Sweden and Ireland, plan to ban gasoline cars by 2030. Cape Verde is aiming for 2035 and Costa Rica wants to accomplish the same by 2050.

Banning these cars, especially in parts of the world that might not have functioning public transport systems or in remote areas where walking or cycling might not be an option, means these countries must have an alternative.

Electric vehicles are marketed as the perfect alternative to ICE-powered vehicles, but currently they are not available to everyone. Hydrogen could provide a viable alternative if it can gain enough momentum. It is not the perfect solution for decarbonization because the mere manufacture of a vehicle generates a significant amount of CO2but it could help reduce overall carbon emissions.

Opinions on hydrogen

Some of the biggest names in green transportation have some interesting opinions on hydrogen. Tesla CEO Elon Musk reportedly described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely silly,” especially compared to his electric vehicles. Yet his opinion seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Large manufacturers (like Hyundai and Toyota) and small ones (like Riversimple) are exploring applications for hydrogen vehicles. These can have a range similar to traditional ICE engines, burning hydrogen as fuel and creating oxygen and water as exhaust.

This exhaust could become an alternative water source for sectors that use a lot of water, such as the automotive industry. Making a single car can use up to 39,000 gallons of water. Using hydrogen equipment could give the manufacturer a chance to capture and use fuel cell exhaust.

Hydrogen fuel cells could find a place in more than passenger cars. Hyundai is working on hydrogen-powered construction equipment that could help reduce the construction industry’s huge carbon footprint. It could also become a green alternative for freight transport and other carbon-intensive industries.

Could hydrogen take over?

A few big names in the industry say they think focusing on hydrogen as an alternative to gasoline or diesel is a waste of time, but their opinions seem to be in the minority. Embracing hydrogen and choosing to make an effort to develop hydrogen-powered vehicles and equipment will help reduce CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere each year.

It’s not the only tool to help reduce CO2 emissions, nor is it the only thing we can do to prevent climate change. It’s just one piece of a much larger puzzle that will require everyone’s cooperation.