by Aman Sethia

Hydrogen powered cars have been touted to be an alternative to electric powered cars following the gradual extinction of combustion engines. Electric powered cars are made of Lithium, Cobalt and other rare Earth metals. The extraction of these materials results in the emission of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, the refining of said materials results in the emissions of even more harmful greenhouse gases. The disassembly of electric car batteries has only resulted in a recycling of 5% of all dead batteries collected. If the process is not conducted properly it can result in causing a potent neurotoxin that can damage brain development for children. 

Hydrogen powered cars have fuel cells that are similar in design to a lithium -ion battery. They consist of an anode, a cathode and a catalyst that triggers a separation of electrons and protons from the hydrogen gas pumped inside. The hydrogen gas from the car’s fuel tank combines with oxygen inside the fuel cell stack to generate electricity through reverse electrolysis. Electrons are removed from the hydrogen gas, sent through the circuit to power the motor, and combine with oxygen on the other side of the circuit to form water vapour. This is vented out the car’s exhaust. Advantages of such a system is that refuelling takes as long as the refuelling of a combustion engine car. Hydrogen powered cars have a larger range as compared to electric powered cars. They also have lower degradation on their range over time. 

The drawbacks of using hydrogen is that it is expensive to produce. The refuelling Infrastructure is lacking worldwide due to the gases flammable properties. The plants that are responsible for the production of hydrogen fuel cells are made by burning fossil fuels in a process called steam reforming. To create hydrogen, it must be passed through water through electrolysis (which is the process of splitting hydrogen and oxygen in water), this process is 75% efficient. The hydrogen must then be compressed, chilled and transported to the station. Once into the car it must be turned back into electricity, which is 60% efficient. The energy is used to power the motor which is 95% efficient. This entire process is only 38% efficient as compared to Electric cars 75% overall efficiency.

Hydrogen powered cars technology is still behind electric vehicle technology. Until large investments in research and development the purchase of Hydrogen powered cars still seems impractical for everyday use. Large automotive manufacturers such as Porsche, Toyota and Hyundai have been investing massively in Hydrogen cars, with a racing series set to advertise and spread awareness about hydrogen technology set to release in 2024 called Extreme H.

A collection of articles by the students of Ascend International School