The fuel cell is currently being hyped in the media and considered as the solution for individual mobility. It should be clean, good for the environment and better than electric vehicles.
Basically, a fuel cell vehicle is nothing more than an electric vehicle with a smaller battery as a buffer, a “fuel cell generator” and a hydrogen tank. The fuel cell converts hydrogen from the pressure tanks with the atmospheric oxygen from the environment into electrical energy and water. A fuel cell has an unexplored and definable lifetime. Due to the platinum loss, the lifetime of a fuel cell is finite. It is estimated that the lifetime of a fuel cell in a car is about 5,000 hours. That’s equivalent to 250,000 km. Then the fuel cell must be replaced because of damage.
Rare Earth Elements
People complain about the “massive” use of rare earth elements in an electric vehilce. Absurdly the same people say the fuel cell vehicle is better and don’t need any rare earth elements. Lithium and cobalt, which are used in batterys, are no rare earth elements. Neodym is needed for magnets in electric motors and is relatively rare. This element is needed in the battery electric and the fuel cell vehicle.
The bigger problem is platinum. It is needed for the fuel cell and is partially irretrievable with the water during power generation from the fuel cell. Similar to the catalyst of a gasoline or diesel engine. These expensive precious metals are lost for ever.
The fuel cell is allegedly operated with CO²-neutral hydrogen. Hydrogen is not a naturally occurring gas. It has to be separated from water (H²O) with high energy expenditure in the electrolysis process. The hydrogen is split off from the oxygen as result of an electrochemical process. The hydrogen is collected and pumped into pressure tanks. Alternatively, hydrogen can be recovered by steam reforming from mathan gas. This is not a CO²-neutral process because natural gas is a fossil fuel and set a lot of CO² free while hydrogen production. Approximately 90% of the hydrogen produced today is produced by steam reforming, as this process is less expensive. The current price for hydrogen filling stations is 9.5 €/kg. This is subsidized today. We estimate a realistic price, if the hydrogen is produced by means of electrolysis and renewable energies, at 15-20 €/kg. That would lead to more absurd operating costs for a fuel cell vehicles than they already are. Current vehicles consume 1-1.2kgH2 per 100km.
A fuel cell vehicle needs about 3-4 times the amount of electricity for the same range as a BEV in the same class.
A fuel cell vehicle is touted as safe compared to the battery electric vehicle. The fact is that a 700 bar high-pressure tank is needed to store hydrogen. Since the gas has a very low energy density on the volume, several large tanks are needed. Approximately 150 liters per 1kg hydrogen with 700bar are needed. The gas is explosive and permanently escapes from the seals and diffuses through all materials. If one of the gas tanks is damaged there is a high risk of fire and explosion.
The explosion of an H² filling station in Norway has shown what consequences a simple assembly error of an employee entails this technology.
The biggest advantage is the fast refueling of a vehicle. Here should be able to be fueled within 3-5 minutes. Compared to a petrol or diesel vehicle, these are still quite high filling times. Compared to the electric car, however, it is very short.
As soon as hydrogen has been taken from the filling station, the gas station compressor will need a relatively long time to rebuild the pressure. The next one in the queue has to wait until the pressure is built up and needs 3-4 minutes to refuel.
It should be noted that there is still no nationwide H² gas station network and the gas stations are very expensive. Many operators also report problems with the availability of hydrogen, so that they can not even provide the necessary pressure for refueling.
The further development of the battery technologies and rapid charging process relativizes the charging times. A fast-charging vehicle needs 30 minutes for an 80% charge. This corresponds to a range of about 300km for a Tesla Model 3.
In summary, the disadvantages of this technology outweigh the only advantage.
- very expensive and expensive technology
- higher acquisition costs
- higher operating costs
- short life of the fuel cell
- wasting of rare earths
- not really sustainable and environmentally friendly
- poor efficiency in the production of hydrogen by electrolysis
- Currently, methane is used to produce hydrogen
- too much energy compared to electric cars
- large corporations determine the price of the fuel
- you can not produce the fuel by yourself
- refueling times relatively high
- you have to go to a gas station
- you can not refuel like the BEV where you want
- if one has fueled in front of me, the plant takes a long time to rebuild the pressure
- High pressure tank can explode
- Gas stations can explode
- The materials of the pressure tank can become brittle due to hydrogen
Alone the costs for operating and acquisition are the reason that this technology can not prevail. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The other negative aspects mentioned are very clear.