The internal combustion engine was a marvel when it was first invented and it has undoubtedly taken human civilization to new highs. However, as we become more conscious of how our actions affect the planet, it has become clear that internal combustion engines have to be phased out in favor of something more environmentally friendly. Electric cars have emerged as an eco-friendly solution, and several governments have plans to replace most of the vehicles on the roads with EVs in the next decade or two.
Another technology that could have a significant impact on the transportation sector is hydrogen fuel cells. Unfortunately, hydrogen fuel cells are barely a blip on the global radar. Estimates by WoodMac put 17,000 hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles on the road worldwide at the end of last year with nearly half of the vehicles in the U.S. alone. Based on estimates from the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, that equates to less than 0.02% of the 947 million or so passenger vehicles that were in use worldwide at the end of 2015.
“There’s probably that number of cars on Fifth Avenue. It’s a very, very small market,” says Ben Gallagher, a subject matter expert in carbon and emerging technology in Wood Mackenzie’s Energy Transition Practice. He co-authored a market report which posited that more than 9 million hydrogen fuel-cell passenger vehicles could be built to support aggressive targets in markets such as California, China, Japan, and South Korea. According to Wood Mackenzie’s research, the market is rapidly expanding, with 7,574 units added in 2019, a 246% increase from the previous year.
Gallagher states that while public support for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles might be growing any time soon, there are “other applications that might be a better use case in the near time” such as buses and trucks. These vehicles already require heavy battery packs for electrification and they tend to travel to and from a central base, thus it would make economic sense to build a hydrogen refueling station at the base. According to a 2017 report by Roland Berger for the European Fuel Cells and Hydrogen (“FCH”) joint undertaking, there are already real-life cases of hydrogen fuel cell use.
Bus makers like Solaris, Van Hool and VDL are studying hydrogen-fueled products, and the report highlighted a fuel-cell delivery van pilot by parcel service UPS in Long Beach, California back in 2017. Fuel-cell based garbage truck pilots have also been undertaken in Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK.
This dimension to renewable energy sources would be an excellent complement to the work being done by EV makers like Fisker Inc. (NYSE: SPAQ).
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