Let us first recall a few principles. The hydrogen car is actually an electric vehicle powered by hydrogen, which is transformed into electricity by a fuel cell. The gas is stored under high pressure in several tanks installed in the car platform.
Hydrogen (H2) reacts with oxygen (O2) ambient air to power the fuel cell: an electrochemical reaction takes place inside it, and produces electricity as well as water vapor (H2O), rejected under the vehicle.
The electricity is stored in the vehicle’s batteries, which behaves like a 100% electric car.
How to get hydrogen?
Today there are two streams. Gray hydrogen (widespread in industry) is obtained by steam reforming gas with steam, whose carbon impact and fossil origin are known. It is a question of separating the hydrogen atoms from those of carbon with a significant heat impact.
The other possibility is green hydrogen. It is produced from an electric current generated by wind turbines or solar panels, and water. It is the latter that should be preferred.
Few vehicles in circulation
In terms of passenger vehicles, only two brands each offer a model: Toyota with the Mirai and Hyundai with the Nexo, both with a range of 650 km.
Projects exist, in particular at Land Rover, Hopium, NamX and Ineos with its 4×4 Grenadier. We can also mention BMW and Mercedes, which seem to favor a motorhome.
The whole problem consists in fitting the fuel cell, the batteries and the hydrogen tanks into a small space. Another problem: the network of supply stations which is yet to be built.
A development in the utility
Fuel cell manufacturers also come up against the relatively low power of the cells. Two manufacturers then teamed up with manufacturers to develop and market practical solutions.
Renault, formerly associated with Symbio, has chosen the American PlugPower and, in its new Hyvia factory in Flins (Yvelines), produces homologated sets for the heavy Master van. All three tanks are mounted above the hull for ease of fabrication.
Stellantis chose light vans to install the fuel cell and tanks in the Expert, Jumpy and Vivaro platform; a battery provided by… Symbio.
Hydrogen technology also applies to buses and especially trucks. Machines where there is no shortage of hydrogen storage space, which could make it possible to achieve ranges of 1,000 km or more.
The American Nikola receives many orders for his truck “Tre” designed in partnership with Iveco. Mercedes is also working on heavy goods vehicles, as is Toyota for buses and even Hyundai.
But, it is not enough to build. It is also necessary to refuel, and this, according to a certain flow: the choice then seems to be made in favor of recharging at 700 bars.
The biggest obstacle: the price
If the first station dates from 2015, there are only 30 operational in France in 2022, including 6 in the Paris region, 10 in Normandy and 6 between Lyon, Grenoble and Valence.
Several hundred stations should be reached by 2030 since the European Commissioner for Transport is aiming for one station every 150 km.
According to the National Hydrogen Council (CNH), the cost of manufacturing green hydrogen is 5 to 10 € per kg depending on the size of the manufacturing units, which gives between 10 and 15 € per kg to the pump.
The CNH estimates that it is possible to halve the price by 2030. At this price, it can become competitive.