Are Hydrogen Vehicles The Green Solution?

The future is bright! The Future is Green! Right?

Well, in recent years tech giants and governments have pushed hard on the electric vehicle solution with manufacturers like Harley-Davidson pledging to be 100% electric in future years.

However in the last couple of years there has been a growing antidote to this global EV fever and that is for the development of alternative fuels or propulsion systems. So much so that some manufacturers such as Triumph and KTM are starting to push for bio fuels and synthetic fuels to keep internal combustion engines alive.

The other major green player to join the table is the use of Hydrogen with heavy plant manufacturer JCB recently releasing their Hydrogen fuelled engine as well as BMW and Porsche developing engines too. Most notably Toyota with Yamaha have developed a new Hydrogen fuelled V8 engine with comparable performance to a petrol powered engine too.

But here we are talking about hydrogen, the most common element in the known universe being used as fuel in internal combustion engines that are either modified or built ground up to use it. But the more common use of hydrogen is with a fuel cell, which essentially becomes a battery driving an electric motor.

So instead of charging your bike or car for 30-60mins, you can simply refill with hydrogen or swap out hydrogen pressurised canisters.

The hydrogen fuel cell technology is not a new one, but it is being utilised in more vehicles. Toyota have been testing experimental lorries in California with hydrogen fuel cell tech and is proving them to be a very useable form of green tech, winning awards along the way too.

So whichever method is used, there are undoubted issues with it. Either trying to maintain liquid hydrogen at insanely cold temperatures that can be used directly in engines, but only has a shelf life of 17hours before it needs to be vented out, or highly pressurised hydrogen which not only takes up a lot of space, also requires there to be free of any leaks at the 10,000psi range which is a tall order too.

The big four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers recently joined forces to develop Hydrogen fuelled bikes with Kawasaki being the first to outline concept designs using hydrogen canisters that would be stored in pannier boxes on the bike.

Of course a lot of this is in early development but it shows that there is becoming a viable alternative to electric vehicles which have recently come under more criticism due to the levels of lithium required for the batteries and the environmental impact of that.

So what about Hydrogen itself? Is it as green as it is being made out to be? Well the short answer is at the moment it is expensive for automotive use and it mostly being produced with the use of fossil fuels…in fact up to 90% of hydrogen is produced in this way, in what is referred to as ‘Grey Hydrogen’.

So whilst the running of a vehicle may be green, the energy required to produce the vehicle itself and the fuel to run it may not be green. Very similar to the inherent problems with electric vehicle production and for that matter all vehicle production.

The other issue is the availability of hydrogen too. The infrastructure must be grown on a massive scale to be usable to future demands…and of course this comes at an environmental cost too. So not only is hydrogen production not that green, but the delivery, storage and network to supply is not holding green credentials either.

Some manufacturers and suppliers such as Shell are investing in the production of hydrogen by environmentally more friendly methods with mass electrolysis plants or upstaging bio masses facilities too. But it will be some years yet before it can even match the current fossil fuel supply, let alone the electric charging.

So, the production of engines using hydrogen is still in its infancy and the vehicles making use of engines or fuel cells powering motors still has more development to go too, but the greatest challenge will be to produce and supply hydrogen for whichever vehicle can use it in the most environmentally efficient manner possible.

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