A car next to a hidrogenera. Your driver opens the tank lid, take a hose and connect it to the vehicle. After, you press a button that says “start” and sounds a noise like a small explosion. The valve has been opened and the car begins to refuel. In just a few minutes, you are ready to get back on the road. This situation, which may appear to be similar to that provided for day-to-day in thousands of gas stations in the world, takes place in Swindon, a city in the southwest of England. But in this case, there is no refuelling gasoline, but hydrogen.
The hydrogen, which is presented as a clean alternative for producing electricity, is the most abundant element in the universe. Is almost everywhere —from the water to the plants— and is already being used to provide energy to homes, buildings and cars. The world is moving towards decarbonization. In the european cities, the traffic causes 40% of the emissions of nitrogen oxides, according to the European Commission. Cities around the world have already banned part of its territory to the vehicles the most polluting.
“The problem of decarbonization is not easy,” says Mike Copson, manager of business development of the hydrogen Shell. To address this, it says, must take into account a variety of factors: “While there is a growing demand for energy and transport, have to deal with the climate change and air pollution. In addition, we have new technologies available and to develop new transport policies”.
Asserts that there are several alternatives to those fuels more polluting: “From biofuels to electric mobility and hydrogen”. But the problem of decarbonization, as stressed, does not have a unique solution. “The solution does not pass through one of these options, but for all of them,” he says at an event in London on the role of hydrogen in mobility that THE COUNTRY has been invited by Toyota.
The car has filled up at Swindon, which is in circulation, it is extremely quiet, does not generate polluting emissions. “The only emission is water,” reads a sentence on the rear of the vehicle. It is a Toyota Mirai and has a system of fuel battery that generates electricity from a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.
it is Not the only hydrogen car that is sold in the world. There are others such as the Audi H-tron Quattro Concept, the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and the Hyundai Link. The manufacturers ensure that these cars can reach as far as any vehicle of petrol of similar size but with a full tank of hydrogen. With almost five kilograms of hydrogen, which can store the Toyota Mirai in their deposits, their autonomy is near 500 miles. In addition, unlike electric cars, which require a lot of time to recharge your batteries, your tank takes to fill between three and five minutes.
Lack of infrastructure and high cost
But also have some limitations. In some countries, such as Spain, the lack of infrastructure is the main limitation. There are only half a dozen hidrogeneras and, according to sources from Toyota, are not suitable for the refuelling of hydrogen fuel cell cars. Germany is the european country with more hidrogeneras —a total of 75—. We are still very far away from the United Kingdom and Denmark, with 10 in each country, according to data provided by the japanese company.
there are Also companies like Fuell Cell Systems that are working on solutions for transporting hydrogen. One of its trucks can carry more than 65 kilograms of hydrogen from any hidrogenera to another location. Rent for a day, this full truck with driver costs about 3,000 pounds, according to the company. They have also made a dispenser of hydrogen smaller, which can be used in case of emergency and would allow a vehicle to make a journey of up to 64 kilometres of additional.
in Addition to the lack of infrastructure, the manufacturing cost of a car fuel cell is significantly higher than that of a conventional car. In Europe, hydrogen vehicles reach very high prices —close to 80,000 euros—. However, the manufacturers insist that will become more affordable as sales increase.
Despite the high cost, there are already hydrogen vehicles to circulate in different countries. Since the Toyota Mirai came on the market in 2015 and until August of 2019, the japanese company has sold a total of 9.658 units. The majority of them in North America (5.888) and Japan (3183 out). In Europe, sales have increased 10-fold in the last four years, but only have been sold 599 vehicles —most of them in Germany, Uk and France.
there are Also companies that try to solve the problem of affordability with various business models. Riversimple, an automobile manufacturer of hydrogen based in the Uk, doesn’t sell its vehicles. Instead, users pay a monthly fee, which covers fuel, insurance and maintenance costs. “We hope that these cars have multiple owners and last 15 or 20 years,” explains a worker of the company.
But, in the future, not only there will be cars on hydrogen, but will co-exist with all types of vehicles, according to Taiyo Kawai. He is the general manager of project division of R & D and engineering administrative of Toyota and ensure that your company has decades of experience working to diversify the use of fuels and engines for automotive. The small vehicles used for short distances, he argues, will be electric —Battery Electric Vehicles—. For the intermediate distances with several passengers, says that it will use the hybrid car and electric car hybrid electric plug-in. Meanwhile, the fuel cell system will be used in large vehicles performing longer routes such as delivery trucks or buses.
Other uses of hydrogen
The hydrogen that can be produced from a variety of sources —such as solar and wind, biofuels, and natural gas— not only good for new cars. Can also be used in other means of transport such as trains and ships. Energy Observer is the first boat electrical propulsion that works thanks to a combination of renewable energies and a hydrogen production system from sea water. Amelie Conty, a journalist on board the catamaran, described as a “floating laboratory”. The boat, which began in 2018, a trip around the world which will last for six years, produces all the energy we need without emitting greenhouse gases or particulate pollutants. “Other advantages are that it makes noise and does not smell,” he says.
In the same way, there are companies that make use of hydrogen with unmanned aerial vehicles. Intelligent Energy, based in the United Kingdom, has developed a battery of hydrogen for drones that allows you to fly up to two hours. And there are more ambitious initiatives that touch on different sectors, as says Ben Madden, director of the consulting firm specialized in energy Element Energy. He gives as an example HyNet, a large-scale project of hydrogen in the Uk that aims to reduce the carbon emissions from industry, households and transport.