François Isaac de Rivaz, a French officer, built an hydrogen-powered car in 1807. He carried the hydrogen in a balloon and led it into the reciprocating engine, where it was simply burned.
A lot has changed in technology over the last 200 years – so also with the progress of building environmentally friendly cars and other means of transport. However, the hydrogen car with its fuel cell has not yet really been able to establish itself, even though various manufacturers have tried it over the past few years.
A fuel cell is an electricity supplier. For example, hydrogen serves as fuel, which reacts in the cell with the oxygen from the air – this generates electricity and the only waste product here is water vapor. In contrast to an electric car, the hydrogen car generates its electricity almost in real time on board. The range is much longer than that of an electric car and it only takes a few minutes to refuel.
The costs: Such a car costs quite a bit of money, and refueling is considerably more expensive than a charging station.
The fuel: Hydrogen (chemical symbol “H”) is the most common element in the solar system, but on earth it only occurs in a bound form, for example in water (H2O). Electrolysis can break down water into its elements of hydrogen and oxygen, but it takes a lot of electricity. Therefore, the hydrogen required is predominantly obtained from natural gas today – not the most sustainable variant.
The infrastructure: Have you ever noticed a hydrogen filling station in Austria? If not, it’s definitely not up to you. Because only 5 of these stations are available throughout Austria. These are available in Vienna, Wiener Neudorf, Asten, Innsbruck and Graz – and here we are already dealing with the biggest problem – the chicken and egg problem. As long as there is not enough demand, the expansion of this infrastructure is not really worth it – and vice versa, people do not buy a fuel cell vehicle if the infrastructure is not already available. In contrast to battery cars, you cannot refuel a fuel cell car at home. But also the size difference between a hydrogen filling station and a fast charging station for electric cars is enormous. The gas tanks are extremely large due to their required volume. In addition, the energy consumption for hydrogen cars is 2.4 times as high as for cars with batteries.
Hydrogen: You also need a lot of electricity to produce hydrogen from water. The hydrogen obtained is then stored in gas tanks and after car refueling it is directly converted into electricity. This process is relatively expensive and is therefore a fundamental disadvantage. In addition, only 25% of the original energy in a fuel cell vehicle leads to movement, the rest is lost. In the case of battery-operated electric cars, this value is around 70%.
Depending on the application, either battery electric cars or fuel cell vehicles are more suitable. However, all environmentally friendly forms of drive are important and each one has its effect in order to make road traffic cleaner.
Nevertheless, the proportion of alternative forms of drive will continue to increase to enable sustainable and environmentally friendly transport.