How Hydrogen And Electric Cars Work

Article by By André Gonçalves

A hydrogen fuel cell car has a hydrogen tank that feeds a fuel cell with high pressured hydrogen gas that’ll mix with oxygen. This mix starts an electrochemical reaction that produces electricity to power the electric motor. This means hydrogen cars have characteristics of both electric cars (due to the use of electric energy and motor) and conventional petrol cars (because of the tank). However, they represent a unique share of the transportation market and they’re also called FCVs (Fuel Cell Vehicles) or FCEVs (Full Cell Electric Vehicles).

Fuel cells are the main component of hydrogen-powered cars. Think of them as the maestro of all the processes happening inside the car so that it has the energy to move. Long story short, fuel cells turn the stored hydrogen gas (by mixing it with oxygen) into electricity. This electricity is then used to power an electric motor to propel the vehicle, without any toxic tailpipe emissions. In fact, the only by-product of the whole process is water and heat, as the result of the connection of hydrogen and oxygen atoms that forms H20 molecules. I know – it seems perfect, right?
On the other hand, electric vehicles (EVs), are powered by electric motors that pull current from a rechargeable battery or other portable sources of electricity. Once they are moving, there’s no chemical reaction happening either, only an electric one thanks to the power batteries were previously charged with. But which one is more ecological and sustainable? Electrical cars or hydrogen cars? Before drawing into final conclusions let’s first take a look at the most important characteristics of each type of vehicle.

The Pros And Cons Of Hydrogen And Electric Cars

Hydrogen Cars Vs Electric Cars: Driving Range

Hyundai Nexo (hydrogen powered) can travel around 330 miles or 550 km, which is around the same as the electric Tesla Model S, the best of its kind. Nonetheless, it’s hard to accurately tell the driving range of these cars. It depends on a number of metrics such as the number of passengers the car is taking, if the air-con is on or off, whether the car is on a high-road or stuck in the city center traffic, the type of vehicle itself… This is why different people have been reporting different experiences, due to their unique mix of all these variables. However, as hydrogen cars densely pack their energy storage, they’re usually able to achieve longer distances. While most fully electric vehicles can travel between 100-200 miles on a single charge, hydrogen ones can get to 300 miles, according to AutomotiveTechnologies.


Hydrogen Cars Vs Electric Cars: Powering/Refuelling Time

The amount of time it takes to pump hydrogen into the tank is way more interesting (5 to 10 minutes, just like any petrol car) than the one from electric cars. While Tesla’s fast chargers (with 120 kW) give batteries 80% power in half an hour, the BMW i3 or the Nissan Leaf can take around 4 or 8 hours, respectively, to get fully charged. In the end, the time electric cars take to power depends obviously on the charging station and the type of charging connector. But whatever the combination is, and even with Tesla’s most recent V3 supercharger that’s still in beta testing in San Francisco, this is a clear win for the hydrogen car – all because of 1kg of hydrogen storing 236 times more energy than 1 kilogram of lithium-ion batteries.


By André Gonçalves