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What Makes Hydrogen-Electric Cars Better Than Battery-Electric Cars?

TopSpeed logo TopSpeed 2/2/2023 Ethan Moser
© Provided by TopSpeed

The switch to eco-friendly driving has been happening, slowly but surely, all across the world over the last few years in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and lessen our dependence on harmful fossil fuels. As a result, the majority of major automotive brands have been making a concerted effort to introduce more and more battery-powered electric vehicles and, more recently, vehicles that are powered by hydrogen fuel cell technologies. While both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric vehicles are significantly more eco-friendly and cost-effective than traditional fossil fuel-powered models, it's important for consumers to know how the two types of electric vehicles compare in key areas, such as safety, driving range, charging times, upfront and long term costs, and emissions.


Related: Why Toyota's "New" AE86 Has Us Talking About A Hydrogen Future

What Are Electric Cars And How Do They Work?

Before pitting hydrogen-electric and battery-electric cars head-to-head, it's worth understanding the key differences between the two technologies. Traditionally, electric vehicles powered by rechargeable batteries utilize a lithium-ion battery to power one or more motors in the car. These vehicles can be charged time and time again by simply plugging them into a standard electricity grid, as you would with any other electric device such as a phone or computer. Electric-battery cars can also be charged at public charging stations, depending on the make and model. Certain models of battery-electric cars can even recharge themselves in small bursts by converting the heat produced during braking into electricity.

As the name suggests, hydrogen-electric cars are powered by hydrogen fuel cells which allow for a chemical reaction to take place between hydrogen and oxygen atoms, resulting in the production of both electricity and water vapor. The electricity produced powers a motor, similar to those used in battery-electric cars, though the only byproduct is harmless water vapor. While battery-electric cars can be recharged at owner's homes or at public charging stations, hydrogen-electric cars, also known as fuel cell electric vehicles, must be refueled at special service stations that carry pressurized tanks of hydrogen gas.

Related: Why Are Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles Getting So Much Attention Lately?

Pros Of Hydrogen And Battery-Electric Cars

Both battery-powered and hydrogen-powered electric cars feature a number of benefits over vehicles that utilize traditional fossil fuels, going beyond emissions to include more advanced technology and growing availability worldwide.

When it comes to battery-electric vehicles, there is a much larger established infrastructure compared to hydrogen-electric vehicles. Part of this is due to the fact that governments around the world have been funneling money into the production of battery-powered cars for several years now compared to the relatively recent introduction of hydrogen-powered models. This can also be seen in the increasing popularity of electric charging stations at pre-existing gas stations and rest stops, while hydrogen refueling is more difficult to access. Additionally, battery-electric vehicles can be charged at owners' homes with chargers provided by the manufacturer, making it increasingly easy to keep your electric car charged up at all times. Battery-electric cars are also significantly cheaper than hydrogen-powered ones and can be cheaper long-term, especially when charged during off-peak grid times. This makes battery-powered vehicles a particularly good investment.

Another benefit of vehicles equipped with lithium-ion batteries is that they are nearly silent and do not produce any harmful fumes, essentially eliminating the noise and air pollution produced by gas-powered vehicles. Additionally, while stationary, battery-powered vehicles do not consume any energy. That being said, hydrogen-electric vehicles also benefit from a number of enviable features that make them an arguably better choice compared to battery-powered models. Similar to battery-powered models, hydrogen-electric models do not produce any harmful, polluting emissions and instead only emit water vapor into the atmosphere. Creating the hydrogen gas necessary to power hydrogen-electric vehicles can be a challenging process, however hydrogen is the most abundant element in the entire universe, meaning that the energy source is endlessly renewable and eco-friendly.

In terms of charging, hydrogen-electric vehicles charge in a fraction of the time it takes battery-electric models, while similarly offering significantly higher driving ranges. For example, the Renault Kangoo Z.E. Hydrogen and Master Z.E. Hydrogen boast charge times as low as five to ten minutes while still offering an all-electric driving range upwards of 215 miles thanks to their range extender fuel cells.

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Cons Of Hydrogen And Battery-Electric Cars

While there are seemingly endless benefits to both battery and hydrogen electric vehicles, there are some notable drawbacks as well, all of which are currently being addressed by the automotive industry worldwide. Perhaps the most glaring drawback of battery-powered electric vehicles comes in regard to their insufficient driving ranges and lengthy charging times, both of which are significantly improved in hydrogen-electric models. This means that it is more challenging to use battery-electric vehicles for long-distance driving purposes despite the increasing availability of public charging stations.

Hydrogen-electric cars, on the other hand, suffer from a glaring lack of infrastructure, partially due to their relative newness. As a result, it is challenging for owners to find adequate, reliable refueling stations, making them a less viable option for many drivers, particularly those living in more rural communities. That being said, this problem is believed to be easily remedied with the right support and investment from the automotive industry. Similarly, hydrogen-powered electric vehicles are notorious for being more expensive compared to similar battery-powered and gas-powered models. For example, throughout the United States, it is four times cheaper to recharge a battery-electric car compared to a hydrogen-electric one. That being said, it seems this trend is rapidly changing, as the cost of hydrogen fuel cells has already dropped an impressive 80-percent in recent years.

Related: Toyota’s Hydrogen Combustion Engine Has The Potential To Make EVs Obsolete

The Future Of Hydrogen-Electric Cars

Between their increased range, shorter charging times, and the rapidly decreasing cost of hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen-electric vehicles could potentially usurp battery-powered models in the very near future. Presently, there are very few hydrogen-powered models on the market in the US, but this is set to change in the coming year. For example, Honda projects that its all-new hydrogen-powered CR-V will hit markets as soon as 2024. The brand previously offered a hydrogen-powered version of the Honda Clarity, though it was discontinued back in 2021. Similar models are also set to debut in the near future from brands like BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Toyota, and more.


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