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Hydrogen is behind electric in the race to become the green fuel champion. Uptake has been slow with a few thousand hydrogen cars sold to date globally compared with more than a million battery-powered or hybrid electric vehicles.
Sceptics question whether hydrogen technology is viable. But advocates of fuel cell cars are convinced of the technology’s long-term advantages.
Shell cemented its commitment to the technology this week by installing its first hydrogen refuelling station in the UK at its Cobham service station on the M25.
But how consumer-friendly are hydrogen cars?
How do hydrogen cars work?
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles convert hydrogen into electricity and produce only heat and water when driven. Energy is stored in compressed hydrogen fuel, rather than in a battery. They offer an alternative to the conventional internal combustion engine, a driving experience similar to electric cars, and no local emissions.
How much do they cost?
There are currently two hydrogen cars on sale in the UK – the Hyundai ix35, costing from £53,105 and the Toyota Mirai, which costs up to £66,000.
Toyota had to recall its entire global fleet of 2,800 Mirai hydrogen vehicles last week to fix a software glitch.
Because hydrogen needs to be contained securely and at high pressure, these cars need to carry large tanks, which take up space inside the car.
The Toyota Mirai can drive up to 300 miles without refuelling and can be refuelled in a few minutes at a standard forecourt with a hydrogen pump.
There are currently only a handful of hydrogen stations in the UK. Shell, which currently has one, plans to open another two in 2017.
Filling up hydrogen cars costs around £65, and you can expect similar fuel economy figures to a diesel car. However, hydrogen’s price at the pump is expected to drop considerably in the future.
They don’t produce any emissions, they have a range comparable to a petrol or diesel car and are almost silent on the move.
Unlike pure electric cars, which can take hours to recharge, a hydrogen fuel-cell car can be refuelled in minutes, making it more practical for long journeys.
The technology currently makes them expensive. There is only a handful of hydrogen stations dotted around the UK and hydrogen is also difficult to transport and store compared to conventional fossil fuels.
The biggest drawback is the fact that as much as 95 per cent of all hydrogen is produced by burning fossil fuels. Until large-scale hydrogen production becomes environmentally friendly, it makes sense to stick to petrol, diesel or electric.
Honda has been developing experimental home hydrogen stations powered by sunlight, as well as larger stations that can be powered by waste or organic biomass. Developments like this could help hydrogen gain a foothold in the future.
Should I buy one?
Hydrogen car technology will improve and reduce their cost and environmental impact in the coming years. But, for now, hydrogen cars are slightly hampered by a lack of refuelling infrastructure and the cost of creating their fuel in the first place. However, with more research and a lowering of price, hydrogen cars could turn out to be a good choice for those looking to get around more economically.