But as hopes for fuel cells for cars fade, they’re becoming the reality for commercial vehicles, particularly trucks. “Hydrogen fuel cells have low prospects in cars. However, the range and refuelling advantages mean that heavy duty applications have long offered a potential use for the technology,” market research firm IDTechEx wrote in a recent report looking at EV trends.
Vauxhall plans to introduce the 249-mile-range Vivaro-e Hydrogen van to the UK next year, while Renault is promising fuel cell vans for sale in 2023. Meanwhile, hydrogen trucks are being investigated by the likes of Hyundai, Daimler (in partnership with Volvo) and Chinese firm Hyzon, which has already started production.
Toyota Europe is about to start making fuel cells at its Belgian R&D centre to supply customers outside the car industry, such as Portuguese bus manufacturer Caetano. In the UK, Wrightbus makes hydrogen buses for customers including Transport for London.
The idea now is to create a ‘hydrogen society’ into which one day, advocates hope, you can drive fuel cell cars with much less hassle than today. “Hydrogen is coming to sit at the heart of energy for the coming decade,” said Greaves. “That gives us the opportunity to put fuel cell cars back onto the agenda, scale up production and reduce distribution costs.”
Whether FCEVs will ever be able to reclaim the momentum they’ve lost to BEVs, however, is a key question.
The Cheese of the Future
Hydrogen fuel cells make electricity by causing a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, of which the only by-product is water. However, to make hydrogen without using fossil fuels, you have to do the reverse, and that takes a lot of electricity. Ideally, that electricity comes from renewable sources such as wind, otherwise the point of FCEVs is lost.
The BEV argument is that you save a lot of energy by putting that clean electricity straight into a battery. The FCEV counterargument is that there might not be enough batteries to store renewable energy when it’s being generated; for example, on a windy night.