Hydrogen fuelled cars – They're greener, they're cheaper but are they smart buys?

Hydrogen fuelled cars – They're greener, they're cheaper but are they smart buys?

Toyota gave us one of the first and best hybrid cars, the Prius. Now they've come up with another car featuring yet another alternative drive train due to be released in the UK this September. This time, it's called the Mirai (Japanese for future) and it's powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

How hydrogen fuels cars

Water is a composition of hydrogen and oxygen. It can easily be split to release the hydrogen by simply passing an electric current through it.

In a hydrogen fuel cell, the process is reversed. Hydrogen is recombined with oxygen from the atmosphere, using a cleverly engineered container to mix the two in, and some special chemicals. The end result is electricity which the car uses to power an electric motor.

Refuelling is simple. The fuel tank is filled in a similar way to a petrol or diesel car and takes a similar amount of time. A nozzle is attached and the gas is pumped into the car. Hydrogen is a very flammable gas and requires specialist hardware for storage, so it can’t be kept at home. For safety, refuelling must be done at an authorised refuelling station.

Hydrogen is cheaper

Hydrogen is literally everywhere! Our sun is mostly made up of it and water contains it too. This means it doesn't need to be mined, or drilled for, and nobody needs to prospect for it, making it much cheaper to source and produce than other fuel sources such as petrol, diesel or LPG.

Already Hydrogen fuel costs around half as much per mile as diesel, a third as much for petrol, and is still significantly cheaper per mile than hybrid vehicles as well. Prices are predicted to reduce further as Hydrogen fuel becomes more widely available and used by car owners. Currently, there are relatively few hydrogen filling stations with only 15 across the UK in total, although they are widely spread. The Government is putting forward £11million to fund expansion of the hydrogen refuelling station network.

Hydrogen is greener

Hybrid cars still use polluting and expensive fossil fuels like petrol and diesel. Although, they don't cause as much pollution as older and non hybrid cars, they still produce harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases which are bad for our environment. Hydrogen power is a renewable energy source and the cars that use it emit water, which is completely harmless.

So, should you consider buying a hydrogen car?

This depends on your exact needs. However, there are several points to think about.

Reliability and Maintenance - Hydrogen fuel cells are what NASA used to provide electrical power onboard their space capsules, so they are a well established and known technology. Also, with far fewer moving parts than a normal internal combustion engine, servicing is likely to be much cheaper as there is less to wear out and replace. Therefore, the service life of one of these cars is likely to be considerably longer than fossil fuelled equivalents.

Also, as it is a zero emission vehicle, there’s no road fund licence to pay for either.

Fuel Cost and Availability – This is the biggest plus point of a hydrogen powered car. It costs far less to fuel than even a hybrid or turbo diesel car. Current family sized, turbo diesels can muster as much as 60 miles per gallon on the combined cycle, and at current prices that equates to about 8p/mile. Hydrogen fuel costs about half this per mile.

The other factor is the availability of fuel. At the moment, there are only 15 refuelling stations across the whole of the UK that provide hydrogen refuelling. If you live near one, then owning a hydrogen car should be fine, and they are quite widespread - there’s a station in the Outer Hebrides!

The government are also looking to extend the infrastructure for this too, so hydrogen refuelling should be available far more widely soon. Even Honda are getting in on the act as they have their own refuelling station in Swindon, although they haven’t officially launched a hydrogen car yet for public purchase.

Purchase Price and Resale Value – Currently the Mirai is set to cost around £40,000 from new. This is pricey for a family sized hatchback. For comparison, the similarly sized VW Passat and Ford Mondeo are both priced between £20,000 and £30,000 depending on trim and engine size. Although, a grant from the government of up to £5,000 towards the Mirai’s price is available.

there is currently very little information regarding this as the car is so new, but demand in Japan has been surprisingly strong already, which is a good sign.

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