Why hasn’t hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

In December 1838, the German physicist Christian Friedrich Sch?nbein presented his first fuel cell in the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Journal and discussed the electric current technology generated by hydrogen and oxygen dissolved in water. In the same year, Welsh physicist and barrister Sir William Grove published a book on the feasibility of fuel cells, although the fuel cell technology was rough now.

Since then, more than a hundred years later, fuel cells have been repeatedly mentioned as one of the representatives of clean energy. Hydrogen energy, as the most readily available energy source, has gained a high status in fuel cells. With the importance attached to the environment, we are more and more emphasis on “low-carbon economy” and “ecological civilization”, so the main theme of the world is to look at new energy. As we all know, new energy because of small pollution, large reserves, wide distribution, more can meet the needs of the present.

Why hasn't hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

A Sketch of Sir William Grove’s 1839 Fuel Cell wikipedia

In many branches of new energy, fuel cells do not have an absolute voice, in the most common use of new energy scene – the car, electric vehicles equipped with lithium batteries have become the leader in new energy, occupying the new energy “half of the mountain.”

However, even in the most mainstream applications, electric vehicles have unavoidable disadvantages, such as long charging times, short range, high battery repair and maintenance costs, and so on. Due to the limitations of technological development, there are still many uncertainties about whether electric vehicles can become the absolute only choice for people to travel. In addition to lithium batteries, there are many other technical methods, waiting for the outbreak.

“Neglected” new energy

Cars are one of the best carriers for fuel cells. Prototypes powered by hydrogen fuel cells were available 20 years ago. At the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show, Honda introduced the FCX concept car, in which the hydrogen fuel cell manufactured by Ballard Power Systems has a power output of 78kW and an EPA-certified range of 170 miles (about 273 kilometers).

Why hasn't hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

At the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show, Honda showed off the FCX concept models. wikipedia

In 2009, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Toyota and other car companies have entered the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, according to statistics, in just one year, more than 20 hydrogen fuel cell models released, and in the next few years gradually mass production sales. However, the result is always not what people want. From 2009 to the present, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have not developed as well as they should.

Media reported that more than 6,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles had been sold and leased across the U.S. as of February 2019, twice as many as Japan, the second-largest market. Lithium batteries with similar start-up times are growing even faster, with a cumulative sales of 148,704 electric vehicles in the U.S. in the first half of 2019 alone, making electric vehicles a huge market today.

Why hasn't hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

Europe’s Share of New Energy Vehicle Sales in Quarters 2016-2018 euobersever (top left-left, from left to right for hybrid scars, all-electric vehicles, additional electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles)

As if two brothers were born almost at the same time, but one physically strong and the other is stunted, why is this happening?

The reason is that hydrogen energy has not been developed enough in the process of industrialization, and the technology in energy is not perfect enough. First, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have a high demand for energy-caping infrastructure. If we compare electric cars, electric cars can be recharged with fast-charging piles outside, slow-charge piles can be used at home, but hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can only be recharged at hydrogenation stations, and if infrastructure is not distributed on a large scale, then it will be a problem for people to travel.

According to the White Paper on China’s Hydrogen Energy and Fuel Cell Industry, released by the China Hydrogen Energy Alliance, by the end of 2018, China had built 23 hydrogenation stations, accounting for about 6.23% of the global hydrogenation stations.

Why hasn't hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

Distribution of hydrogen stations already in operation in China

In addition, one of the advantages of hydrogen energy as a vehicle power is its long range, which is only possible because of its extremely high mass energy density. The mass energy density of lithium ions is 0.36-0.88MJ/Kg, while the mass energy density of hydrogen is 142MJ/Kg. But hydrogen has a low volume of energy density, so the general solution for use in automobiles is to compress or liquefy hydrogen to reduce the size of the hydrogen storage tank, which is very demanding for hydrogen storage technology. As a result, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been in the past in the awkward situation of not reaching mass production.

But people have not given up on this kind of clean energy. On the one hand, hydrogen fuel cells have an unparalleled advantage in their operation, not only without nitrogen oxides such as toxic gases, not even carbon dioxide. Compared to fuel cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have achieved “zero carbon emissions”.

Hydrogen energy also has one big advantage: renewable. Hydrogen energy, as a secondary energy source, can be obtained from fossil energy, which can help the clean and efficient use of primary energy such as coal, and can also be extracted by electrolytic water, increase the flexibility of power system, and achieve large-scale energy storage and peak adjustment. From this point of view, the whole life cycle of hydrogen energy is more energy efficient than gasoline diesel.

Why hasn't hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

The Cost of Electrolytic Hydrogen in Electrolytic Waters

At present, all countries in the world are taking hydrogen energy and fuel cells as the key development objects, and constantly increase the support of research and development and industrialization. According to rough statistics, countries represented by the United States, Japan, the European Union and China have invested nearly $5 billion in hydrogen energy and fuel cells in the past decade.

The world’s demand for “zero carbon emissions” has a rough point in time: 2050. In fact, it is difficult to achieve the zero-emissions target for all economies and transportation by 2050 with just one energy source, and people need more choices.

Upgraded “hydrogen power”

Technology always has to become mature, and more importantly, the maturity of technology is visible to the naked eye. Technologies used in aerospace in the 1970s and 1980s, such as dehydrated foods, diapers, and so on, are also widely available today and are ubiquitous consumer goods. By the same token, hydrogen fuel cells look obscure, but they are also evolving.

In 2008, Honda introduced the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle for retail customers, and in the years that followed, it was continuously developed and upgraded, and the Clarity Fuel Cell honda hydrogen fuel cell vehicle was unveiled at the Guangzhou Motor Show.

As mentioned above, it is 20 years since Honda unveiled its first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and Honda itself began basic research on fuel cell vehicles in the 1980s. In 2007, Honda launched its first hydrogen fuel cell production model, the FCX Clarity, and officially launched it. To this day, 1,000 FCX Clarity sits on California roads under lease, according to Honda.

Compared to the previous model, the Clarity Fuel Cell features a second-generation FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicles, Fuel Cell Vehicle) powertrain technology, which offers a significant boost in power, such as the miniaturization of fuel cell stacks. The new generation of Clarity Fuel Cell’s unit cell is known to be 1.5 times more powerful, fuel cell units are thin by 20% and battery stacks are 33% smaller.

Why hasn't hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

Honda’s power-boosting technology for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles Honda

“The entire reactor was independently developed by Honda, and by improving the way to generate gas flow and cooling, the output battery power per unit of the battery can be greatly increased. “The biggest advantage of Honda over the hydrogen fuel cell technology of other vehicle companies over the hydrogen fuel cell technology of other vehicle companies is the miniaturization of the fuel cell stack and the improvement of in-car space,” said Ando, Assistant Director of Development for clarity Fuel Cell powertrain. Originally only 4 people can ride space, so upgrade to 5 people can be spacious ride.

On the Clarity Fuel Cell, Honda placed a complete five-part powertrain system with drive motors, battery stacks, mixed gas units, presses, and electronic control systems in the hood, making a significant difference from other models. The compact size makes the vehicle’s powertrain similar to that of a regular V6 engine, while also greatly increasing the freedom of the vehicle’s body design.

Why hasn't hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

Honda says fuel cell power in engine compartment is the world’s first. Honda

Honda says the Clarity Fuel Cell’s performance is no different from that of a fuel car. The model delivers output power of up to 130kW and peak torque of 300N.m, with a hydrogen filling of just 3 minutes and a maximum range of 750km.

At this point, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may be able to prove their usefulness. Mr Ando said the model was already sold in small quantities in Japan and the US. The configuration of existing fuel or electric vehicles is essentially the same and indicates that the system is likely to be mass produced in the future.

The more objective situation is that the maturity of the environment cannot be supported by just one company. While hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have become a focus for car companies to promote popularity, they also acknowledge that it will be years before a true mass roll-out takes them. Hydrogen fuel is not the mainstream choice for car companies or consumers, but the technology is not quiet. Instead, Honda-led car makers are making forward-looking preparations for the “post-electric era”.

What’s more, Honda has a strong openness to technology exploration. Honda is also actively exploring the “possibility” of fuel cell technology in China. Although it’s just “positive discussion,” behind every technology, we can see Honda, the geek, constantly exploring the technology.

Why hasn't hydrogen fuel cell cars become mainstream yet?

Clarity Fuel Cell . . . Honda

It’s not just fuel cars, electric cars, or even Honda’s small business jet, HondaJet, that is the right way to go in an energy and technology-themed revolution, not as a target for energy, but for “travel” as the main body. Fortunately, Honda is putting it into practice.

In the midst of broader travel changes, Honda is also actively working with technology companies, building in-depth partnerships with Waymo and Deepmap early, investing in Southeast Asia’s shared services Grab, $750 million in Gm Autonomous Driving, and even in China, Honda As the first Japanese company to join Baidu Apollo platform, and with Shangtang Technology to develop self-driving AI technology… Honda has built stronger ties with these young tech companies.

In an age of “technological change”, the most beautiful thing about Honda in the face of all the pressures and anxieties is that it retains more possibilities and keeps its “exploration” of technology at all times.

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