Hydrogen cars: where are we with the network, prices and investments in the sector?

Hydrogen cars: where are we with the network, prices and investments in the sector?

Hydrogen cars

The future of the automotive sector and, more generally, of mobility, with a particular focus on commercial vehicles and heavy vehicles and public transport, will be linked to a progressive reduction of emissions into the atmosphere "at the pump ” and hydrogen could also play a leading role in this process . For some time, in fact, there has been talk of hydrogen as a further option to definitively replace petrol, diesel and other fossil fuels.

Electricity as it has developed today still has to deal with a series of critical issues and technological limitations. Hydrogen could, therefore, become an alternative system to achieve the sector's emission reduction objective. Even for hydrogen, however, the challenges to be faced and overcome are considerable. From costs per kilometer through an infrastructural network still to be developed (especially in Italy) and up to only partial support, at least for now, by manufacturers in the automotive sector.

The future of the car it could be related to hydrogen but the aspects to consider are different. Let's see where the hydrogen car sector is and when and if there could be developments for this technology.

Is hydrogen a sustainable choice for the future of cars?

if (jQuery("#crm_srl-th_motorlabs_d_mh2_1").is(":visible")) { //console .log("[ACTIVATION TEST] adding zone: tag crm_srl-th_motorlabs_d_mh2_1 slot id: th_motorlabs_d_mh2"); } if (jQuery("#crm_srl-th_motorlabs_d_bx2_1").is(":visible")) { //console.log("[ACTIVATION TEST] adding zone: tag crm_srl-th_motorlabs_d_bx2_1 slot id: th_motorlabs_d_bx2"); } The world of cars and the entire automotive sector are looking for solutions capable of guaranteeing greater environmental sustainability, reducing emissions into the atmosphere. In this transformation programme, the EU is at the forefront, having already set a ban on petrol and diesel cars for 2035. This decision opens the door to an acceleration in the hydrogen car development program as well as the use of hydrogen as a "fuel" for next-generation commercial vehicles and heavy vehicles.

In particular, c There is great attention on "green" hydrogen which is extracted using only energy produced from renewable sources, guaranteeing maximum environmental sustainability. The classification of hydrogen based on the way it is "produced" plays a very important role in assessing the effective environmental sustainability of this technology which, over the next few years, could become a concrete alternative for mobility.

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Hydrogen cars: how they work and what are the prices

The system behind hydrogen cars (and other vehicles that could potentially use hydrogen as fuel) is, conceptually, very simple. A hydrogen car is equipped with a special tank in which the fuel is stored, which can be obtained by refueling at a special service station, similar to what happens with methane cars.

Hydrogen is stored in one or more high pressure cylinders and is then transported to a fuel cell called fuel cell. An electrochemical reaction takes place within this component of the hydrogen car system in which electricity is generated without harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Electricity can therefore be used to power an electric motor or stored in a battery pack, components that we find today in electric cars on the market.

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Naturally , the development of hydrogen cars is not without problems which, to date, have practically blocked the diffusion of these solutions. Refueling with hydrogen must take place at special recharging stations, the diffusion of which is very limited even in those countries where there have already been concrete investments in hydrogen as an alternative to electric cars and petrol and diesel cars.

Federicovecchio.com Then there are the problems of the price of hydrogen. The (few) hydrogen cars that have arrived on the market are little more than experiments by the manufacturers and, as such, have a decidedly high price. A reference model in the sector such as the Hyundai Nexo crossover (our test here) starts at 77,900 euros. This is a decidedly high price even for a model with good equipment, a length of 4.67 meters and a 161 HP engine (for an autonomy of about 600 kilometers with a "full" of the three hydrogen cylinders installed) .

The problem of the price of hydrogen is holding back the diffusion of these cars. Currently, in Germany, a market that is investing heavily in the development of this technology, hydrogen costs more than 10 euros per kilogram. With this price, the Hyundai Nexo, which has a combined cycle consumption of 0.95 kilograms of hydrogen for every 100 kilometres, would cost about 10 euros to cover 100 kilometres.

Auto a hydrogen in Italy: where are we?

The hydrogen car sector in Italy, to date, almost does not exist. During the first 10 months of 2022, in fact, just 7 hydrogen cars were registered (5 Hyundai Nexo and 2 Toyota Mirai, the only models officially marketed in Italy that can use hydrogen). As we have seen, the prices for buying a hydrogen model are high (Toyota's Mirai, cheaper than the Hyundai Nexo, starts at 66,000 euros) and for individuals, to date, there is no real convenience in purchase of this type of vehicle.

Furthermore, the lack of an adequate refueling infrastructure is holding back the diffusion of this technology. Unlike electric cars, which provide for the possibility of "home" recharging, hydrogen refueling requires systems closer to traditional petrol, diesel, LPG and methane service stations. Therefore, significant investments are needed to create a sufficient network to support the diffusion of hydrogen cars. At the moment, this network does not yet exist in Italy. Only a few months ago, in fact, the second filling station, located in Mestre, came into operation, alongside the first "historic" facility in Bolzano.

Auto ad hydrogen: who believes in the development of this technology

The diffusion of hydrogen as an alternative to petrol and diesel but also as solutions to complement electric cars requires heavy investments, both by manufacturers and at the public level. The technology is still to be developed, above all to optimize costs, and the infrastructure in many countries, such as Italy, practically does not exist, unlike the charging stations which, little by little, are expanding.

Among those who believe in the future of hydrogen cars (and also hydrogen light commercial vehicles, trucks and buses) is the EU . Indeed, in October 2022, the European Parliament approved the text of the AFIR (Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation) legislation with a large majority. The text also sets a very ambitious goal for the development of hydrogen.

According to EU plans, in fact, it is necessary to reach the target of one hydrogen refueling station every 100 kilometers by 2027. This target takes into account only the main roads (by traffic volumes) in the EU. In any case, it is a target well above the current Italian reality as well as many other EU countries. Within five years, therefore, considerable investments will be needed to create a real hydrogen supply network.

ACEA, the association of European manufacturers, also said it was in favor of the EU project, thus proceeding to expand the list of realities in the automotive sector that believe in the future development of hydrogen. In this group there is also Stellantis. The company, born from the merger between FCA and PSA and first manufacturer in Europe in 2021 for sales volumes considering passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, has recently started production of the Opel Vivaro-e HYDROGEN. It is a light commercial vehicle which is produced at the Opel plant in Rüsselsheim.

Opel produces the hydrogen-powered Vivaro exclusively on commission, receiving orders from companies wishing to reduce emissions from their fleets. Currently, the project is aimed exclusively at France and Germany but in the future it could also be extended to other markets. To support the development of hydrogen cars there are also other manufacturers in the car sector, such as Hyundai and Toyota which, as seen previously, already market models that exploit this technology.

Toyota also recently presented a new project that combines endothermic engines and hydrogen. BMW is also working on a new hydrogen-related project. In the premium sector, Porsche has expressed interest in hydrogen but working on new technologies capable of maximizing the sportiness of the cars. The Volkswagen Group, on the other hand, has yet to launch a precise strategy for the future of hydrogen cars. The change of CEO, with the recent appointment of Oliver Blume, arriving from Porsche, could lead the German group to invest in technology.

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