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Can Hydrogen Take Over the Automotive Industry?

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For most drivers, the options at the pump are simple: gas or diesel. Things might get a little more complicated if you’re fueling up a boat and need some ethanol-free fuel or you’re driving an electric car, but whatever option you choose, keeping your car on the road is usually pretty straightforward. 
Can Hydrogen Take Over the Automotive Industry?
Courtesy of Hyundai

The problem is that gasoline and diesel are bad for the environment – and even electric cars have their downsides. Engineers have been touting the benefits of hydrogen fuel cells in vehicles for years. Why hasn’t this technology gained much momentum? Could hydrogen take over the automotive industry?

Looming Internal Combustion Bans

The world is facing a looming deadline if it hopes to avert a climate crisis and preserve the planet for future generations. As a species, we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 if we hope to avert a massive climate crisis that could ultimately change the face of the planet. If we don’t, planetary warming will make weather more severe, with hotter summers and colder winters, and potentially destroy delicate ecosystems. Like the coral reefs, some are already feeling the effects of warmer and more acidic oceans.

Gasoline and diesel-powered internal combustion engines (ICE) have been staples for more than a century. Our reliance on fossil fuels to power our vehicles – and the sheer number of vehicles on the road worldwide – is playing a role in climate change, causing the planet to warm. This has led many countries to plan to ban gasoline and diesel cars. Many European countries, including Denmark, Sweden, and Ireland, plan to ban petrol-powered cars by 2030. Cape Verde aims for 2035, and Costa Rica wants to accomplish the same by 2050.

Banning these cars, especially in parts of the world that might not have functional public transit systems or remote areas where walking or riding a bicycle might not be an option, means these countries need to have an alternative.

EVs are marketed as the perfect alternative for ICE-powered vehicles, but currently, they aren’t accessible for everyone. Hydrogen could provide a viable alternative if it can gain enough momentum. It isn’t the perfect solution for decarbonization because simply manufacturing a vehicle generates a significant amount of CO2, but it could help reduce overall carbon emissions.

Opinions on Hydrogen

Some of the biggest names in green transportation have interesting opinions about hydrogen. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, reportedly described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely silly,” especially compared to his electric vehicles. Still, his opinion seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Manufacturers both big (such as Hyundai and Toyota) and small (like Riversimple) are exploring applications for hydrogen-powered vehicles. These can have a similar range to traditional ICE engines, burning hydrogen as fuel and creating oxygen and water as exhaust.

This exhaust could become an alternative water source for sectors that use a lot of water, such as the automotive industry. Manufacturing a single car can use up to 39,000 gallons of water. Using hydrogen-powered equipment could give the manufacturer a chance to reclaim and use the fuel cell’s exhaust.

Hydrogen fuel cells could find a place in more than just passenger cars. Hyundai is working on hydrogen-powered construction equipment that could help reduce the construction industry’s massive carbon footprint. It could also become a green alternative for freight shipping and other carbon-heavy industries.

Could Hydrogen Take Over?

A few big names in the industry say they feel focusing on hydrogen as an alternative to gasoline or diesel is a waste of time, but their opinions seem to be in the minority. Adopting hydrogen and choosing to make an effort to develop hydrogen-powered vehicles and equipment will help reduce the CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere each year.

It isn’t the only tool to help reduce CO2 emissions, nor is it the only thing we can do to prevent climate change. It is but one piece of a much larger puzzle that will take everyone’s cooperation to complete.

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