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Hydrogen vs. Electric Cars - The Numbers Don't Lie!

2022-07-28

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Author: David Booth - www.driving.ca

Forgive the seemingly abrupt plunge into cold, rigorous analysis, but here, in very simple(-istic) terms, are the two numbers that explain why the transportation industry's interest in hydrogen is once again bubbling. A modern car battery can store 250 watt-hours of energy for every kilogram of lithium-ion. A kilogram of hydrogen, meanwhile, has 33,200 of those watt-hour things per kilo. No, that's not a mistake. Yes, hydrogen is more than 100 times as energy-dense as a li-ion battery.

To be fair, energy densities of 300 watt-hours per kilogram are being tossed around for the next generation of electric vehicle batteries, and the solid-state batteries expected by 2025 may boast as much 450 watt-hours per kilogram. Nonetheless, if we stick to those theoretical numbers, that means while a Tesla Models S' 100-kWh battery weighs somewhere in the order of 400 kilograms, were all things equal -- and they most certainly are not -- the same amount of energy could be had with but three kilograms of hydrogen.

As arcane as something like energy density may seem, those two numbers are why the future of long-haul trucking is almost certainly hydrogen-fueled. Battery power may indeed prove feasible for local delivery and short-haul, point-to-point haulage (with battery chargers at both warehouses) but coast-to-coast big rigs will be fuel-cell-powered. According to Brian Lindgren, research and development director at Kenworth, the economics are simple: A semi with a battery big enough to power a fully-loaded big rig for 300 to 350 miles (480 to 560 km) -- diesel-powered long-haul trucks typically double or triple that number -- will probably have to sacrifice about one-third of its payload to the batteries. But, because of hydrogen's high energy density, fuel-cell-powered semis should have a payload similar to current diesel rigs.

Now, here's the opposite side of the coin, two more numbers, again in very simple(-istic) terms, that are the reason Elon Musk calls FCEVs "fool's cells." Battery-powered electric vehicles are phenomenally efficient. Depending on the model, they can boast a well-to-wheel efficiency of around 70 to 80 per cent. By comparison, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicle (FCEV) is positively parsimonious, with an overall efficiency of somewhere around 30 to 35 per cent.

The difference is in how the two process electricity. If, for instance, you want an FCEV to be as emissions-free as a battery-powered car, you need to electrolyze the water -- splitting H2O into, well, H2 and O -- with clean wind, solar, or nuclear power. This electrolysis is not nearly as efficient as simply charging a battery. Similarly, in the fuel cell itself, the H2 and O must be recombined to generate electricity (and the water which is then spewed out the tailpipe). This process, again, is not nearly as efficient as a battery dumping its electrons. One can argue the percentages quoted here if you'd like, but the fact remains that converting electricity to hydrogen only to then convert it back is never going to be as efficient as directly feeding a battery.

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Source: https://driving.ca/column/motor-mouth/motor-mouth-the-numbers-that-decide-whether-hydrogen-or-electric-cars-win-out

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