Hydrogen-powered cars are set to become an increasingly common sight on UK roads by the 2020s as new models are announced and infrastructure investment plans revealed

Leading motoring manufacturers are preparing to launch hydrogen-powered cars within the next two years. Toyota, Honda, Audi and Volkswagen are all developing new models, while a handful of Hyundai vehicles are already available in the UK.

The fuel cells in hydrogen cars generate electricity by combining hydrogen, stored in high-pressure tanks, and oxygen. Only water is emitted from the exhaust. They can cover up to 300 miles before refuelling, which takes just a few minutes at a pump, whereas battery electric cars can take hours to recharge and most have a far lower range.

The Toyota Mirai – meaning ‘future’ in Japanese – is launching in Japan by the end of 2014 and is set to be the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell car. Up to 100 will be available in Europe, mainly the UK and Germany, from mid-2015 and Toyota plans to produce tens of thousands by the 2020s.

Honda plans to release its hydrogen-powered FCV in Japan in March 2016, with Europe and the US to follow.

Six of Hyundai’s ix35 cars have already been delivered in the UK to business customers and Transport for London, and the vehicle is now available for orders from the public.

Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor of London for business and enterprise, predicts that hydrogen fuel cell technology “will eventually replace the internal combustion engine”.

Infrastructure investment

In October during a trip to Japan, minister for business and enterprise Matthew Hancock announced up to £11 million to help prepare the UK for hydrogen-powered cars.

“We want to make the UK one of the best places in the world to design, manufacture and sell ultra-low emission vehicles,” he said.

The money will be used to set up 15 hydrogen refuelling stations by the end of 2015 but also includes £2 million for public sector hydrogen vehicles.

In 2013 the UKH2Mobility project, which involved 12 industry parties and three government departments, recommended an initial network of 65 stations to serve population centres and major roads. It said the number could grow to 1,150 by 2030.

Japan, Germany, Scandinavia and California all have ambitious programmes for hydrogen refuelling networks.

Environmental impact

Although hydrogen cars do not emit any greenhouse gases when driven, most hydrogen in Europe is steamed out of natural gas and produces carbon dioxide as a by-product.

In addition to this and the lack of refuelling stations, hydrogen fuel cells are currently less efficient and more expensive to operate than battery electrics.

However, green groups welcomed the announcement of new commercially available hydrogen fuel cell cars as a positive development.

People and Planet campaigns manager Andrew Taylor told Positive News: “We welcome new investment in hydrogen cars as part of the solution to avoiding dangerous climate change. The oil lobby has held back their development for many years.”

Greg Archer, programme manager for sustainable transport campaign group Transport and Environment added: “Electromobility, whether from electric or hydrogen fuel cell cars, can make mobility more sustainable – low carbon, free of air pollution and noise.”

“This is probably the last chance for hydrogen to establish a foothold in the emerging market for low carbon vehicles. Both energy suppliers and vehicle manufacturers must make serious investments in hydrogen and governments provide complementary policy support.”

Photo title: A Hyundai ix35 fuel cell car

Photo credit: © Hyundai Motor UK Ltd

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  • steve thayne

    Am glad you included that Hydrogen comes from fracked gas Even then it is £3:50 a gallon so not so different from petrol. The current fuel stack for fuel cell cars alone costs close to the amount of a new Tesla Model S battery electric car – which also has a similar range to to the fuel cell at 280 miles from a charge.Would like to make another positive correction to say that battery electric cars do not take hours to charge. They can be charged to 80% in half an hour. And as I write this many are being, almost every uk service station havingrapid chargers that are currently free to use. As well as every Ikea and many other locations. The Tesla model s charges even faster.The cist of bev of less than 2p per mile has led to 150,000 of one make- the Nissan Leaf – already being on the road today. Bmw, Renault and most other leading brands also have bev’s – including Kia, a division of Hyundai….Some of these are being charged directly off people’s own solar panels. Others overnight, making more use of renewables like wind, effectively storing an intermittent renewable power source.Add to this what is coming in the future. Tesla have started building a giga factory that will produce more lithium batteries than are currently being made in the world. Nissan have announced that by 2016 their Leaf will have a range of 250 miles per charge.Hard to feel so positive about hydrogen. But am incredibly positive about bev that can make a reality of the idea of energy democracy.

  • Mickey Bowler

    Hydrogen can be generated from just water, using solar collectors to power hydrogen generators. there is no need to use fracked gas. water from the ocean can be distilled using pyramid solar distillers. This water then can be used to create hydrogen for hydrogen cars.

  • steve thayne

    Yes it can be be but is then double the cost of hydrogen that is made from gas. Hence the use of gas for the few hydrogen filling stations available world wide.

    One of the reasons for the cost is the incredibly large amount of energy needed to make hydrogen currently. It just does not seem the best use of
    scarce energy resources.

    Am not against hydrogen cars on principle – they are enough form of electric car. But the obstacles and costs are so significant currently, and the realitu of battery electric vehicles so viable, affordable and promising.

  • Tabitha

    “All fuels including gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, and, most importantly, electricity. (The only exception being the much maligned corn ethanol that most experts estimate contains 20% to 25% more energy than was used from fossil fuels to make it, with the difference being provided by sunlight when the plant matter was growing.)”

    http://www.cleancaroptions.com/html/hydrogen_faq.html#HQ1

  • Tabitha

    Opps.. “Doesn’t it take more energy to make hydrogen than is contained in that hydrogen?

    Short answer: yes, but this is true of all fuels including gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, and, most importantly, electricity. (The only exception being the much maligned corn ethanol that most experts estimate contains 20% to 25% more energy than was used from fossil fuels to make it, with the difference being provided by sunlight when the plant matter was growing.)”

    http://www.cleancaroptions.com/html/hydrogen_faq.html#HQ1

  • Tabitha

    Hydrogen costs less than half of what it costs to fuel electric vehicles.

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/04/16/the-battle-of-the-green-vehicles-electric-cars-vs.aspx

  • steve thayne

    http://cleantechnica.com/2014/06/04/hydrogen-fuel-cell-vehicles-about-not-clean/

    This is worth reading to shine some light on why hydrogen fuel cells are not a positive news story.

    The point about hydrogen is the large amount of energy it takes in order to store energy in the form of hydrogen in the vehicle.

    With electric vehicles you can get in toa debate about the generating grid and how sustainable that is. It is worth knowing though that even in the UK there are many ev drivers who have generated a lot of their electricity themselves from their own solar panels. Also worth remembering that many others charge up at night when a larger proportion of the grid is renewables like wind. We had days last year where wind accounted for 100 % of electricity used at home. And worth also remembering that we can make the grid more sustainable – I am with Ecotricity who use the money I give them for my bill to build new renewables.

    Tabitha, would encourage you to read widely on this – both sides of the debate. Hydogen fuel cells are another form of electric car – and if sustainable I would support. But in my view they are not.

  • aryand10

    Am glad you included that Hydrogen comes from fracked gas Even then it is £3:50 a gallon so not so different from petrol. The current fuel stack for fuel cell cars alone costs close to the amount of a new Tesla Model S battery electric car – which also has a similar range to to the fuel cell at 280 miles from a charge.Would like to make another positive correction to say that battery electric cars do not take hours to charge. They can be charged to 80% in half an hour. And as I write this many are being, almost every uk service station havingrapid chargers that are currently free to use. As well as every Ikea and many other locations. The Tesla model s charges even faster.The cist of bev of less than 2p per mile has led to 150,000 of one make- the Nissan Leaf – already being on the road today. Bmw, Renault and most other leading brands also have bev’s – including Kia, a division of Hyundai….Some of these are being charged directly off people’s own solar panels. Others overnight, making more use of renewables like wind, effectively storing an intermittent renewable power source.Add to this what is coming in the future. Tesla have started building a giga factory that will produce more lithium batteries than are currently being made in the world. Nissan have announced that by 2016 their Leaf will have a range of 250 miles per charge.Hard to feel so positive about hydrogen. But am incredibly positive about bev that can make a reality of the idea of energy democracy.

  • Martyn Love

    Surely the most sustainable means of transport is the internal combustion engine? It can cover hundreds of thousands of miles and be rebuilt and when powered by direct injection hydrogen rather than building hybrids that require expensive electrical components constructed from scarce metals requiring mining and shipping around the world, a hydrogen tank in lieu of petrol or diesel tank has to be more sustainable. Dr Roger Billings had a whole fleet near Salt Lake City running on hydrogen in the late1970’s and I believe he had developed a metal hydride material to store hydrogen. Now we have the potential to further develop the production of hydrogen by sustainable means (wind, geothermal) why are we not investing in this solution? I thought that BMW had previously launched a test fleet of direct hydrogen 7 series some years previously. Is it politicians or the oil companies that are holding us back?

  • tigereye99

    According to this Roger Billings invented the hydrogen car: http://wwpi.com/spotlight-on-dr-roger-billings-science-and-technology-luminary/