Hydrogen vehicles are seen by many as the future of road travel and a solution to high air pollution levels in cities – we look at their many benefits and how they work.

So great are the government’s concerns about poor air quality, it’s launching an investigation next month into the harm caused by toxic air and how to tackle it. This first-of-its kind inquiry follows a report suggesting poor air quality causes up to 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK MPs on the government’s transport committee will be among those taking part: vehicles, as a whole, are both part of the problem and the solution. One vehicle type that could have a huge impact on reducing carbon emissions and air pollution is the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

How hydrogen fuel cell vehicles work

Hydrogen powered vehicles – from cars to buses – produce zero tail pipe emissions, emitting water vapour instead. Hydrogen cell vehicles ultimately run on electricity. Electricity is produced when the vehicle’s hydrogen fuel cell converts the chemical energy in the stored hydrogen into electrical energy, via an electrochemical process. One kilogram of hydrogen contains about the same energy as a gallon of petrol, making the conversion to electrical energy very efficient. The electricity generated then powers the vehicle’s motor.

Why hydrogen?

Hydrogen vehicles have a number of key benefits over other technologies like electric…

  • Range – At 300 miles per tank is far greater than the 100-mile range of an electric vehicle after re-charging.
  • Easy refuel – Unlike the electric car, which requires a 30 minutes battery re-charge, hydrogen refuelling appears little different from refuelling with diesel or petrol to the driver.
  • User experience – You drive into a service station, park by a pump and insert the nozzle into you vehicle. The compressed hydrogen passes into the fuel tank in about just three minutes.

Already on the road

Various types of scooters, motorbikes, and bikes powered by hydrogen fuel cells are already being trialled commercially. Hydrogen cars with the usability of conventional cars include models by Toyota, Hyundai and Honda, sold in select markets. But it’s hydrogen buses that have had the biggest take-up so far and are running in a handful of the world’s cities, including London and Aberdeen. If more widely adopted, could they change the face of public transport and air quality in a way that’s been unimaginable until now. That’s because a fleet of buses converting to hydrogen fuel has a far greater impact on air quality than the same number of cars converting. It’s easy to see why: bus routes are constantly in use and are in densely populated urban areas. Little wonder then that across Europe a range of projects are being developed with public/private partnerships that are stimulating real appetite with local transport authorities.

More opportunities to refuel

Soon there should be even more hydrogen fuelling stations on our roads, thanks to a new government initiative launched in March. Hydrogen fuel providers are being invited, in partnership with vehicles producers, to bid for a share of £23 million to build infrastructure supporting hydrogen vehicles, including fuelling stations.

Learn more about hydrogen’s uses

To discover:

  • how hydrogen could transform the future
  • its current uses
  • the history of hydrogen

look out for more of our blogs on this ‘wonder gas’ in the coming weeks.

See also: Why BOC’s Nick Power believes hydrogen buses and air quality need political support 

Nick Power
Market Development Manager
Clean Fuels