The Rise of Hydrogen Vehicles: An overview



What is it?
Hydrogen vehicles, also known as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), are a type of electric vehicle that uses hydrogen as its fuel source rather than traditional fossil fuels such as gasoline or diesel. Hydrogen is used in a fuel cell to produce electricity, which powers an electric motor to propel the vehicle. The only emissions from fuel cell electric vehicles are water and heat.

How it Work?
Hydrogen vehicles work through a process called electrolysis. Water (H2O) is split into hydrogen and oxygen gases using an electric current. The hydrogen is then stored in high-pressure tanks on the vehicle. When the vehicle is being powered, the hydrogen flows to the fuel cell where it reacts with oxygen to produce electricity, water, and heat. The electricity generated in the fuel cell then powers an electric motor, which drives the wheels. Excess water is expelled from the vehicle as it is being driven.

Advantages of fuel cell electric vehicles
There are several environmental and performance advantages that fuel cell electric vehicles have over traditional gasoline or diesel vehicles:

– Zero direct emissions: The only emission from hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is water vapor, making them very clean and environmentally friendly. This allows them to meet strict emissions regulations.

– Increased efficiency: Fuel cells have an efficiency of around 60%, which is much higher than the typical 20-30% efficiency of internal combustion engines. This means fuel cell electric vehicles have a much longer driving range per unit of fuel.

– Quick refueling: Unlike battery electric vehicles that can take hours to recharge, fuel cell electric vehicles can be quickly refueled at hydrogen stations in a similar time frame as gasoline vehicles. This enhances their viability for long-distance trips.

– Domestic fuel source: The hydrogen used in vehicles can come from various domestic sources such as natural gas or renewables, enhancing America’s energy independence and security.

– Performance: With their quick refueling and higher energy density than batteries, fuel cell electric vehicles provide performance that is comparable to or better than gasoline vehicles.

Disadvantages of Hydrogen Vehicles
Despite their advantages, there are also some drawbacks holding back widespread adoption of fuel cell electric vehicles:

– High costs: Fuel cell systems, hydrogen tanks, and refueling stations are still very expensive compared to gasoline or lithium-ion batteries. Mass production is needed to drive down costs.

– Lack of refueling infrastructure: With so few fuel cell electric vehicles on the road currently, there is little incentive to invest in building a large network of readily available hydrogen stations. This is a classic chicken and egg problem.

– Hydrogen production: Most hydrogen is currently produced from natural gas reforming which emits carbon dioxide. More needs to be derived from low-carbon sources like renewables in order for fuel cell electric vehicles to be truly zero-emissions.

– Low energy density: Hydrogen has a lower energy density by volume than gasoline, meaning larger high-pressure tanks are needed to provide an equivalent driving range. This also means tanks add substantial weight.

Developments in the Hydrogen Vehicles Industry
Despite the challenges, the market for fuel cell electric vehicles is growing steadily as costs come down and refueling infrastructure expands slowly. Major automakers continue advancing fuel cell technology and developing new hydrogen-powered models:

– Toyota has sold over 10,000 units of its Mirai hydrogen sedan globally since 2015 and aims to reduce costs by over 30% with its next-generation fuel cell stack.

– Hyundai has delivered over 1,600 Nexo SUVs and plans to introduce more hydrogen models including heavy-duty trucks by 2030.

– Honda launched its Clarity fuel cell sedan and intends for fuel cell electric vehicles to comprise two-thirds of its global sales by 2030.

– GM and Nikola have teamed up to produce hydrogen trucks starting in 2023, which could help build out refueling infrastructure to support the nascent industry.

– Several European automakers are investing in developing hydrogen fuel cell technology and vehicles to meet stricter emissions regulations in the region.

Many governments are also supporting the hydrogen economy through research funding and incentives aimed at bridging cost gaps and stimulating demand. As costs come down and availability scales up, fuel cell electric vehicles could become a viable long-term alternative to battery electric vehicles, particularly for commercial trucks and public transport fleets. But widespread adoption still depends on overcoming the challenge of building out a convenient hydrogen fueling network.

In summary, fuel cell electric vehicles are a promising technology that could help reduce emissions from transportation while meeting customer needs in terms of quick refueling and long range. Significant hurdles around costs and infrastructure availability still exist, but advances in fuel cell systems and investments from automakers mean this zero-emissions option is gradually gaining traction in the market. With further progress, hydrogen power could potentially compete with or complement battery electric vehicles in the coming decades.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
  2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it