What’s the hype around hydrogen?



What’s the hype around hydrogen?

Readers of a certain age will likely remember the infamous videotape format war between VHS and Betamax. Two incompatible approaches battling it out to achieve the same thing – become the standardised format for home cinema systems. Where Betamax was regarded to be of a higher quality, VHS tapes had a longer running time. In the end, it was VHS that won out and Betamax fell into obsolescence.

The automotive industry isn’t immune for format wars, either. The end for the internal combustion-engined vehicle burning fossil fuels is clearly on the horizon. Electric vehicles, of course, are becoming increasingly prevalent on our roads. But for some, they aren’t yet the runaway favourite to become the norm.

Hydrogen has long been touted as the ‘future alternative’ for motorists. Both battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicle share a lot of componentry – the main difference is how the power is provided. In a typical electric vehicle, batteries are charged from the mains. However, in a hydrogen vehicle, the electricity is made on-board within the fuel cell. Simply put, a controlled reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen generates an electrical charge to power an electric motor.

Despite being comparable in format to a battery electric vehicle, the ability to quickly fill an on-board fuel tank with hydrogen gas is appealing to those accustomed to visiting a fuel station.

So, which one will win? Well, the key difference between the fuel format war and that of the VHS and Betamax is that one doesn’t need to triumph over the other. Electric vehicle technology has advanced so quickly in recent years that, for large swathes of the population, their personal transport needs are met by the current or next generation range of battery vehicles.

There are some exceptions, not least when it comes to commercial and heavy goods vehicles. This is where hydrogen technology could come to the fore. The development of e-fuels, too, have the potential to serve this market, as well as the strong community of enthusiasts with classic or high-performance cars.

The upside for us is that be it battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell, there’s an important role for our rare-earth free electric motor systems to play in the future of the sector.