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# The Ostensible Death of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles

February 24, 2022 by Alessandro Mascellino

## Once considered the future of passenger electric vehicles, the technology is being abandoned by automakers in favor of Li-ion batteries.

For years, hydrogen fuel cells were seen as the future of electric vehicles (EVs). With governments increasingly limiting the circulation of petrol and diesel cars to reduce emissions, the 2020s should have heralded a promising new era for their aplication.

Yet today, nearly every automaker on the market has dropped hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) entirely. In the U.K. last year, just 12 FCEVs were registered, this in contrast with the nearly 200,000 new Li-ion battery-powered EVs (BEVs) that hit the road.

When and, more importantly, why did this shift occur? We dive into the history of FCEVs down below, together with an exploration of their decline and a look to the future.

### Hydrogen’s Promise

Though the hurdles associated with FCEVs are now clear, let’s first delve into why the technology was originally perceived as the future of sustainable transportation.

For one, hydrogen by mass has nearly three times the energy density of gasoline, and so is able to power vehicles with far greater range. This is especially true when compared to BEVs, which even today are limited to a range of less than 500 miles. For comparison, Toyota’s second-generation Mirai recently completed an 845-mile journey on a single tank.

##### Hydrogen, by mass, is much denser than gasoline. Image used courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

In addition, it was thought that consumers would be able to fill their FCEV tanks the same way they do traditional gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles. Infrastructural changes would thus be relatively few, with little adjustment required from either car manufacturers or fuel providers.

And, despite greater technical challenges, that has largely held true. At modern hydrogen refueling stations, it takes but five minutes to fill up.

If you can find one, that is.

### Insufficient Infrastructure for an Inefficient Fuel

In reality, fueling an FCEV in almost any state outside of California is a complete non-starter. There are a handful of stations in the Northeast, but elsewhere, fueling infrastructure is nearly non-existent. The landscape is similarly sparse in the U.K., where just 14 public stations operate across the whole of the country.

##### A hydrogen refueling station in Oakland, California. Image used courtesy of the California Fuel Cell Parternship

This compounds the fact that hydrogen, as a fuel, is difficult to produce and distribute without problematic efficiency loss. Electrolysis, the process by which hydrogen is split from oxygen in water, requires enormous amounts of energy and is only 70% efficient.

Cooling the hydrogen for transport and storage leads to additional efficiency loss, and converting it into electricity leads to yet more. By the time hydrogen is propelling an FCEV, more than half of its potential energy has been lost.