Electric vehicles can run on either rechargeable batteries (BEV) or fuel cells (FCEV) that convert hydrogen into electricity.

Both have zero tailpipe emissions, however BEV are currently much cheaper to refuel due to the high costs of hydrogen production, infrastructure required and the large amount of energy required to produce it.

This is why 80% of EV owners globally charge their cars at home overnight and according to the Electric Vehicle Council, Australia has over 3,000 public charging stations for electric cars. 357 of these are fast public charging stations compared to less than 20 Hydrogen refuelling stations.

Carmakers seem to have taken sides in the EV debate. Battery-electric cars from companies like Chevrolet, Nissan, and Tesla are already on the market. Leading carmakers Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai, meanwhile, have been enthusiastic proponents of hydrogen fuel cell cars. Fuel cell technology has the advantage of a quick fill-up time of minutes as opposed to the hours-long charging time that batteries need. But the lack of hydrogen infrastructure is still a key hurdle.

However, for commercial fleets and long distance transport, FCEV using Hydrogen may still be a great solution for many. At Australian EVS, we work with some of the country’s leading Hydrogen infrastructure suppliers. So whether you are looking for BEV or FCEV commercial solutions, we can provide a clear roadmap of your options.


Hydrogen’s efficiency problem

The reason why hydrogen is inefficient is because the energy must move from wire to gas to wire in order to power a car. This is sometimes called the energy vector transition.

Let’s take 100 watts of electricity produced by a renewable source such as a wind turbine. To power an FCEV, that energy has to be converted into hydrogen, possibly by passing it through water (the electrolysis process). This is around 75% energy-efficient, so around one-quarter of the electricity is automatically lost.

The hydrogen produced has to be compressed, chilled and transported to the hydrogen station, a process that is around 90% efficient. Once inside the vehicle, the hydrogen needs converting into electricity, which is 60% efficient. Finally, the electricity used in the motor to move the vehicle is around 95% efficient. Put together, only 38% of the original electricity – 38 watts out of 100 – are used.

With electric vehicles, the energy runs on wires all the way from the source to the car. The same 100 watts of power from the same turbine loses about 5% of efficiency in this journey through the grid (in the case of hydrogen, I’m assuming the conversion takes place onsite at the wind farm).

Energy efficiency in electric vehicles

You lose a further 10% of energy from charging and discharging the lithium-ion battery, plus another 5% from using the electricity to make the vehicle move. So you are down to 80 watts – as shown in the figure opposite.

In other words, the hydrogen fuel cell requires double the amount of energy. To quote BMW: “The overall efficiency in the power-to-vehicle-drive energy chain is therefore only half the level of an electric vehicle.