It Doesn’t Have to be EVs or Hydrogen
Just to clarify, electric vehicles can be run off of hydrogen, and these are typically called Hydrogen Electric Vehicles (HEVs) or Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) because they have a hydrogen fuel cell that converts hydrogen stored in high pressure tanks into electricity to power an electric motor (this is how the Toyota Mirai works). Typically, the term “Electric Vehicle” is referring to a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), where the electrical energy is stored in a battery and used to power an electric motor. There are also Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (HICEV) that are similar to a gasoline internal combustion engine, but the only HICEV that are seeing significant usage are hydrogen forklifts at Amazon.
There are clear advantages to both HEVs and BEVs, though the BEV market and infrastructure are clearly further ahead. Most major car makers have or have plans for BEVs, while only Toyota and Hyundai have HEVs on the market. Then there’s the hydrogen refueling station network, which is practically non-existent, so clearly there is a long way to go for HEVs.
Where do HEVs Make Sense?
Oddly enough, the main advantage that HEVs have over BEVs is the time to refuel/recharge. BEVs still take on the order of 30-45 minutes to recharge at DC fast chargers, and while an HEV can refill in approximately the same amount of time as a gasoline vehicle – on the order of 5 minutes. The main advantage of BEVs is that they can be recharged overnight at the drivers home, or hotel, or friend’s house. This is clearly not possible for HEVs.
So, where do HEVs make sense? Oddly enough, I think HEVs make the most sense for people living in cities that need a car. Clearly, it would be best for cities to become less car centric and focus on mass transportation, however, the powers that be seem to not want that to happen. Anyway, for people who live in apartment building complexes or otherwise don’t have access to BEV chargers, an HEV would make sense because it could be refilled at a hydrogen fueling station – which is essentially a gas station, and maybe one day, gas stations will convert to hydrogen refueling stations.
Where to BEVs make sense?
The ‘burbs. A large portion of the people who live in the suburbs and exurbs live in single family homes with garages. Of course, they can charge with a standard Level 1 charger from an outlet in their garages, but most suburbanites will want to install a Level 2 charger. A Level 1 charger will charge a typical EV on the order of 10-15 hours (usually overnight), but a Level 2 charger only takes on the order of 2-3 hours. This means, that if you forget to plug in your EV overnight, you could be stranded at home for a few hours before you have enough charge to get to a Level 3 fast charger at a public place, while you’d only need to wait 15-30mins with a Level 2 charger to get enough charge to head out to the Level 3 charger.
Where are the Hydrogen/Battery Hybrids?
Clearly, there is already a great divide between the lifestyles of people who live in cities and people who live in the suburbs and exurbs, and it doesn’t make sense to further divides those groups based on the cars they drive and the available energy sources, i.e. city folk with hydrogen cars would never go out to the suburbs if there’s only EV charging stations out there and the hydrogen refueling stations are few and far between.
This issue could be solved in one of two ways, either with infrastructure (a combined EV charger and hydrogen refueling station that makes hydrogen on demand from electricity and water would be cool), with electric vehicles that are powered by both batteries and hydrogen. The battery pack could be relatively small, like enough to have 50 miles of range, and allow for regenerative breaking (which HEVs can’t do, because they can’t reproduce hydrogen from braking energy). With this type of car, people from the city could motor about the countyside purely on electric power and then refill with hydrogen once they get back to the city. It would truly be the best of both worlds.
Of course, there will still need to be some EV chargers in the city to accommodate suburbanites who commute in, but but since the electric cars can have a 300+ mile range, it’s unlikely that most suburbanites would want to charge in the city, unless absolutely necessary.
HEVs in Industrial Transportation
The recent push for hydrogen vehicles is largely coming from industrial sectors where the downtime of vehicles due to electric charging can take a toll on operations and therefore cost a lot of time and money. As mentioned before, one recent example is Amazon’s use of hydrogen to power it’s forklifts in some of it’s warehouses.
Trucking is another major industry where hydrogen makes sense over electric vehicles, unless there are further developments in large scale swappable batteries that can get trucks back on the road quickly. I’m sure other large construction, mining, logistics support (dock and runway vehicles), and agricultural vehicles will be ripe for hydrogenization in the near future, especially at with the Hydrogen Hubs funding.