Hydrogen v Electric Cars – Which is Best?
As the world transitions to renewable energy, car manufacturers and consumers have been debating what type of car offers the best performance and advantages while running on renewable energy. The main contenders are fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by hydrogen and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) powered by electrical charging stations. Both offer advantages and disadvantages, and the debate has been raging on for years. Now that more consumers than ever are transitioning to clean cars, many are wondering if they should choose a battery-powered car or a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car. So, which is best?
Advantages of a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) over a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)
- Without an internal combustion engine – or even a hydrogen fuel cell – BEVs can be extremely quiet. Many people who adopt these cars are initially shocked by being able to hear sounds you never heard in a car before: the tires against the road, air against the windows, even birds chirping outside. BEVs were in fact so quiet that authorities had to recall over 500,000 of them for not producing enough noise, as they posed a safety risk with pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers not being able to hear them. While hydrogen FCEVs are also much quieter than gasoline cars, they do still make more noise than BEVs, and some people find the sound of the hydrogen fuel cell annoying.
- There’s more BEV infrastructure. BEVs have more recharging stations compared to hydrogen-fuelled cars. In fact, there are over 1 million BEV charging stations in California, compared to around 50 hydrogen refuelling stations. Outside California hydrogen refuelling stations are even rarer, and most states don’t have any. While this is expected to change in the future, BEVs are the most sensible option for most consumers who want the freedom to explore without worrying about how they’ll refill their tank.
- BEVs cost less than hydrogen-powered cars. It’s now possible to pick up a brand-new BEV for under ,000. Compare this to the ,000 price of a hydrogen-fuelled FCEV, and many consumers would understandably opt to go the battery-electric route. But as technology improves, expect the price of both to go down.
Disadvantages of a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) over a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)
- Batteries, we all know, are quite heavy. These massive chunks of metal are made of nickel, cobalt, and aluminum – and this really weighs cars down. This can mean poor handling, more energy used, and a longer stopping distance. These battery backs also don’t last forever and eventually will need to be replaced. With the cost of a BEV battery pack ranging between
,000 and ,000, consumers should research the longevity of their battery in the car they are thinking of buying.
- Charging times can be long. While many BEV car companies like to market their cars as “fast charging” – the average charging time is still a whopping 8 hours to a full charge at a 7kW charging point. Plugging your BEV into an average household 120-volt power outlet in your garage would mean it takes an incredible 40-50 hours to charge from empty. Not fun at all! A hydrogen-powered car, by contrast, refuels in under 10 minutes.
- Range can be a problem for BEVs. Car manufacturers do all they can to present their BEVs as having long ranges, and countless ads on TV market these as “extra range” and having a “super charged battery”, but unless you upgrade to a more expensive battery pack, chances are your car may not be on the road for as long as you’d hoped for. The average range in 2022 was still only around 240 miles (341 km). By contrast, the average range of a hydrogen-powered car is almost double, at around 400 miles (650 km).
So, Which is Best?
Choosing the “best” car depends entirely on your needs. While a consumer who plans to stay in the US state of California and wait for hydrogen technology to be rolled out across the country may be happy with a hydrogen FCEV car, those who wish to travel long distances to different states may prefer a BEV. As technology improves, however, expect this to change. STEM and STEAM education are providing future renewable energy leaders with the tools to advance both FCEVs and BEVs – which will increase their appeal to consumers.