Hydrogen vehicles: Trends and outlook

Hyundai Truck
Trucks could benefit from fuel cell engines, © H2 Energy

This March, the German gas and water industries association DVGW published the findings of a study called “Hydrogen electric vehicles – trends and outlook,” which the organization had commissioned to evaluate the prospects for hydrogen in the transportation sector.

Conducted by the Center of Automotive Management between June 2019 and this January, it explored the opportunities to be had from producing and transporting hydrogen in the gas industry when taking several technical, economic and environmental factors into account. The conclusion was that hydrogen producers and suppliers will see attractive markets emerging in the not-so-distant future.

Analyzing current advances in hydrogen-fueled transportation across the European Union and five EU countries in particular, including Germany, the study found that there was substantial political support for the technology across the continent and increasing dynamism in the market. For example, funding opportunities for developing new technology have helped businesses and public agencies add fuel cell cars to their fleets and expand the hydrogen infrastructure. In April 2019, around 1,500 fuel cell passenger vehicles were registered in the EU, while another 1,400 will be soon. The number of operational gas stations stood at 173 and 50 more are being built. Despite the comparatively low number of vehicles currently in use, the market for hydrogen-fueled cars has been growing at an impressive rate, showing what opportunities it provides.

Regulatory framework

Binding regulations, especially those set by the Union, have a decisive impact on the success of engine designs. The rules on carbon dioxide emissions from passenger cars and commercial vehicles and the requirements found in the Clean Vehicles Directive regarding the purchase of low- and zero-carbon alternatives starting in 2021 have been strong drivers of growth in the market for hydrogen-fueled transportation. The key objectives put forth can only be met by using either fuel cell or battery electric vehicles. In addition, there have been more and more calls to have cars run on clean, low-carbon fuel, including hydrogen. Compared to other countries around the world, Germany is also fast-tracking a regulatory framework for hydrogen-fueled transportation, spurring growth in the market.

In-depth analysis

So far, Hyundai has sold about 3,800 Nexo cars around the world. By 2022, it will reportedly increase production capacity to 40,000 a year before reaching 700,000 by 2030. Until the end of 2019, it sold 10,000 Toyota Mirai cars and showcased a successor model, of which it is planning to make 30,000 a year. Honda, which offers its Clarity Fuel Cell outside Germany, has likewise announced that it was working on its next generation of FCEVs. Overall, there are around 18,000 fuel cell vehicles in use around the world and it is expected that the growing manufacturing capacity will lead to considerable price cuts.

The bus sector is believed to be a particularly attractive market for fuel cell engines, not just because buses would become emission-free. Their fueling infrastructure would also require only few adjustments. Fuel cell buses are currently built by manufacturers such as Van Hool, Solaris and Daimler and are mostly running in EU projects that aim to increase their number to 1,000 by 2023. The average price for one bus has gone down steadily and should drop to about EUR 400,000 in a few years. There are also bright prospects for the technology in the market for light- and heavy-duty trucks, as fuel cells offer a large range and great flexibility. Over 2,000 heavy-duty fuel cell trucks will reportedly be built by Hyundai and Nikola in Switzerland and the USA over the next years.

read more in H2-international May 2020

Dr. Oliver Ehret
Center of Automotive Management, Bergisch Gladbach

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