The car industry is starting to get behind hydrogen fuel cells to limit fossil fuel emissions.
Fuels cells are a promising technology that could help the automotive industry massively reduce fossil fuel usage by converting hydrogen into electricity. Just as is the case with any emergent technology, adapting hydrogen fuel cell tech to be as efficient and as cost-effective as possible requires investment.
A new positive step in this direction comes from car-manufacturer Hyundai, which has announced the launch of a new brand called HTWO that will be dedicated to hydrogen fuel cells¹.
The brand, whose name is a take on H2, the chemical designation for the hydrogen molecule, will initially be marketed primarily in the US, China, and Europe.
Hand-in-hand with this new brand, says the South Korean multinational automotive manufacturer in a press release issued on Thursday, will come a “stepping-up of efforts” to develop the next generation of fuel cells. This will include a focus on adapting this clean energy-tech to areas outside of the car-market that could see hydrogen fuel cells used in ships and trains.
The company’s press release goes on to state: “Not only will the next-generation fuel-cell system be available for many different mobility products and services, but it will also deliver enhanced performance and durability at an affordable price in a lighter architecture with advanced energy density.”
Of course, given the fact that fuel cells could be so beneficial to the environment, Hyundai is hardly the only company or organization that is interested in expanding the use of such devices. Even some countries are getting in on the action.
The Hydrogen Economy
Other car manufacturers such as Toyota, Honda, Foton, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, BMW, SAIC, FeiChi Bus, and Dongfeng have shown a strong commitment to these alternatives to electric batteries². They have also been joined by the governments of South Korea and China, who are preparing to invest heavily in hydrogen infrastructure.
Japan, in particular, is also keen to shift to hydrogen power, as the country has little in the way of fossil fuel reserves and the Fukushima disaster of 2011 has brought its previous dependence on nuclear power into sharp focus.
All this interest is shifting focus from a hydrocarbon economy powered by petroleum, coal, and natural gas fossil fuels, to a hydrogen-based economy that hinges on a renewable energy source.
Becoming more dependant on hydrogen fuel cells could be key to cutting out energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 60 percent by 2050, an agreement reached by 195 countries at the COP21 meeting held in Paris in 2015.
A 2017 report by the Hydrogen Council³ — a consortium of 18 companies in the automotive, oil and gas, industrial gas, and equipment industries — suggested that the shift to a hydrogen-based system could account for as much as one-fifth of the total reduction needed to bring global temperatures down by 2 degrees.
Why is Hydrogen so Useful?
Hydrogen is the lightest element in the Universe and as such is one of the most reactive. Not only this, but the fact that hydrogen is a by-product of several industries means it can be produced without a huge carbon footprint.
Whilst the adoption of hydrogen as a fuel source is not limited to the automotive industry, this could well be the area in which it can make the most difference. In fact, a third of the global growth in hydrogen demand could come from the transportation sector.
The Hydrogen Council believes that by 2050 hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles could account for as much as 20 percent of the total global vehicle fleet. This equates to 400 million cars, between 15 to 20 million trucks, and around 5 million buses.
Developing better, more efficient hydrogen fuel cells could be key to boosting their use in heavy-duty and long-haul areas of industry, something that will further limit fossil fuel emissions.
Hyundai already has a hydrogen fuel cell system in place in their Hyundai Nexo ‘crossover’ vehicle, and clearly see hydrogen fuel cells as replacements for batteries in electric cars.
Despite this, other manufacturers are more optimistic about using batteries and fuel cells in conjunction to drive the car industry to a green revolution.
¹ ‘Hyundai expands plans for hydrogen fuel cell tech,’ Automotive News, , [https://www.autonews.com/automakers-suppliers/hyundai-fuel-cells-rail-auto-air-cargo]
² ‘Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Market Demand Analysis To 2026 Lead By-Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, Foton, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, BMW, SAIC,’ Financial Content, , [https://markets.financialcontent.com/stocks]
³ Bernd Heid, Martin Linder, Anna Orthofer, Markus Wilthaner, , ‘Hydrogen: The next wave for electric vehicles?’ McKinsey & Company, [https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/hydrogen-the-next-wave-for-electric-vehicles]
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