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Electric Vehicles or Hydrogen-powered vehicles, what holds the future of automobiles?

Rabbi Calra

Electric Vehicles or Hydrogen-powered vehicles: In the automobile sector, it is all about delivering the right vehicle, at the right time and at the right place.

With the fast-growing Electric Vehicle (EV) market, it is believed EV holds the future of the automobile industry, but wait, before we give the final verdict!! There is another player in the race, the hydrogen-powered vehicles, which are fast catching pace in the automobile market. Automobile giants like Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda have not only run billions of dollars in the Research and Development (R&D) of the technology but have already launched hydrogen-combustion-powered vehicles, which they claim to cover up the shortcomings of EVs with zero burdens on the environment.

Interestingly, Elon Musk, CEO of EV giant Tesla who, on several occasions had opposed the adoption of hydrogen to power vehicles, has announced that Tesla would switch to hydrogen-energy-powered vehicles by 2024.

The Indian Government is also pushing for the technology and there are plans for the future. In March 2022, Indian Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari reached the National Parliament in a hydrogen-powered car, where he announced the Government’s plan to manufacture Green Hydrogen in the country, while also emphasising India’s commitment to be a Green Hydrogen exporting country soon.

In February this year, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, flagged off the country’s first hydrogen-powered heavy-duty truck, manufactured by Ashok Leyland in collaboration with Reliance Industries.

Hydrogen-powered-vehicles Vs EVs?

The hydrogen-combustion engine vehicle is claimed to take over the EV market as it banks on the shortcomings associated with the latter. Shortcomings? Indeed there are some and hydrogen-combustion technology aims to provide simpler solutions for them, without harming the environment with carbon emissions. So what is the whole concept of a hydrogen combustion vehicle and how does it challenge EVs?

Working of a hydrogen combustion engine

Jim Nebergall, General Manager of the Hydrogen Engine Business at American engine manufacturing giant Cummins wrote about the working of the hydrogen combustion engine, in a company publication. He explains how using hydrogen to power the engine is much simpler than one can imagine.

There are two ways to use hydrogen to power engines, the first one being the use of fuel cells that convert hydrogen to electricity, like a conventional EV.

The second approach is to use internal combustion engines that use hydrogen as fuel, which according to Jim, is a more familiar technology. Hydrogen engines share the same components as that of the diesel engine; engine block, crank, cylinder heads, ignition system, installation parts, etc.

“When the world’s first internal combustion engine revved up, it was hydrogen gas—not gasoline or diesel—that burned as its fuel.” – Airbus publication, Hydrogen combustion, explained, dated November 26, 2020

According to the above publication by Airbus, Combustion, also known as burning, is a chemical process that involves the release of energy from a fuel and air mixture. In the case of hydrogen combustion, either liquid or gaseous hydrogen is combusted in a modified gas-turbine engine to generate thrust. This process is like traditional internal combustion, except that hydrogen replaces its fossil fuel counterpart.

One of the most interesting things related to burning hydrogen is that it gives out water as a by-product. So, no more emission worries once the vehicle you drive is simply releasing water as it runs!

EV shortcomings addressed by hydrogen-powered vehicles

Those who own an EV know how painstaking it is to charge the vehicle. Some places have a challenge of charging equipment, while the whole charging process takes a long time to get the vehicle ready for its next run. Hydrogen-powered vehicles require a fraction of the time to refuel, while they can be deployed using the existing infrastructure at traditional gas stations. EVs also require larger batteries which are made of limited-supply materials like Lithium and Nickel. Hydrogen-powered cars do use batteries but in smaller sizes, requiring less Lithium and Nickel, making them more environmentally friendly. How extraction of Lithium has a great environmental cost is a separate story. Also, car and motor enthusiasts have long been complaining about not liking the way an EV sounds or doesn’t sound at all. Hydrogen-powered vehicles not only provide great torque, but they also sound like traditional race cars!

While the technology looks promising, all eyes are on the tests and how the vehicles deliver in terms of all parameters. In the automobile sector, it is all about delivering the right vehicle, at the right time and at the right place.

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