Safety

Is hydrogen less safe than fossil fuels? In this case the saying “ignorance breeds intolerance” is most valid.

This video shows the difference in a fire occurring in cars with fuels versus cars with hydrogen.

Hydrogen has been used worldwide in aerospace for years, on a very large scale in the chemical industry and for the production of electronics. Hydrogen cars have been driving around for more than 15 years in the United States, Japan and Korea. No incident has ever occurred. And how about the hydrogen bomb? Well, that is a very different story. With hydrogen bombs, it’s about a nuclear reaction. This contrasts with a hydrogen car, where it is about a simple chemical reaction in which hydrogen and oxygen react. Another ‘horror story’ concerns the Hindenburg disaster from 80 years ago, where the zeppelin caught fire. It was later discovered that the hydrogen being used to keep the Hindenburg in the air was being stored in a thin, weak and fire risky casing. The current generation of fuel tanks are resistant against high pressure and withstand extreme tests and impact tests. The safety around hydrogen is established in diverse protocols and papers. Certification is based on PGS35 papers and NEN-norms. Consumers barely think about fire risk when driving a car on fuel. In the end it remains a process of getting used to and good communication.

Sustainable

Just as with a battery-electrical car, a hydrogen-electrical car does not have harmful emission caused by the motor. There is only water vapor coming from the outlet. Hydrogen does not occur in a free form on Earth and therefore needs to be made. Our preference goes out to electrolysis. Electrolysis is a production method in which water is split into hydrogen and oxygen by means of (green) current. This process is 100% sustainable.

This video explains how electrolysis functions with sustainable current.

Other production methods also exist. Hydrogen is sometimes a by-product of the chemical industry. Salt or cokes are thereby often the ‘raw material’. Hydrogen is produced during this production process. Hydrogen as a by-product in this case can cover 2-3% of the worldwide energy needs. On the other hand, hydrogen can be produced out of natural gas. This is not 100% sustainable. The energy-efficiency and CO2 emission is however a lot more favourable than any other ‘fossil routes’. CO2 can optionally be caught. There a few other ‘routes’ to hydrogen production, for example through algae (bioreactor). When algae or kept away from sulphur, they switch to the production of hydrogen via photosynthesis.

How does hydrogen work in a car?

A hydrogen car is in a way like an electrical car. Instead of batteries a hydrogen car has a tank with a capacity of circa 5kg of hydrogen. With this, 500 to 800 km can be driven. In the car, hydrogen is converted into electricity by means of a fuel cell. The only by-product is water vapor and heat. Therefore a hydrogen car is a zero-emission vehicle.

This video by Toyota explains this principal.

Energie efficiëncy

A battle seems to emerge between ‘hydrogen-believers’ and ‘battery-fans’. We believe that both techniques are promising. For small amounts and a short term storage, batteries are cheaper, easier and more efficient. When it comes to larger amounts of energy that need to be stored for a longer period of time, hydrogen appears to be the champion. The loss of energy when charging and producing hydrogen is hereby taken into account, as well as the costs (money and raw materials) for the production of batteries versus the production of fuel cells.

When will we be driving on hydrogen?

Driving on hydrogen sounds wonderful, however for the time being there are little hydrogen cars in the Netherlands. The first hydrogen cars were already driving around twenty years ago but there was still a lot of research that needed to be done. Therefore, the largest car brands have invested billions in the past years to develop useful and trustworthy models. Marketing departments of several large car brands predict a strong growth starting in 2021. For now it is important to build a network of sufficient filling stations, to allow drivers to fill up at any time. The Netherlands has a goal of realising twenty filling stations in 2020. In Germany this process is a lot more rapid, they have 400 filling stations projected for 2023.

Read more about the German infrastructure here