Hydrogen Cars and Their Future in New Zealand

Hydrogen fuelled vehicles are being suggested as a potential transport option for the future but they’re yet to gain the same level of popularity as Electrical Vehicles (EVs). Also known as Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs), these are electric-powered cars with a hydrogen fuel cell system instead of the large battery pack that’s used in EVs.

FCEVs are more common in big cities around the world that have strict emissions regulations. Some of the major car brands have models such as the Honda Clarity, Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo.

We’re starting to see FCEVs on New Zealand roads in the heavy transport sector. Initial testing has resulted in 20 Hyzon trucks being put on the road, fuelled by Hiringa’s nationwide hydrogen refuelling network, which includes Waitomo Group’s fuel stops.

Auckland Transport has also begun a two-year trial of hydrogen fuel cell buses, which will assess performance and compare operating costs compared with diesel and electric buses. The trial will cost $1.175 million and the estimated cost of transitioning to zero-emission buses is expected to be between $150 million to $200 million.

How does hydrogen vehicle technology work?

Hydrogen is pumped into the vehicle at a filling station, which is then used as fuel to generate electricity, which is used to power the wheels. It is stored in a secure fuel tank like petrol or diesel. Hydrogen fuel cells have a range of 300km plus.

How is hydrogen produced?

Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity through electrochemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. When combined, it produces electrical energy and water vapour is emitted from the vehicle’s exhaust.

The benefits of hydrogen

The main benefit of FCEVs is that they produce no emissions at the tailpipe – just water. This understandably is a perfect solution to stop harmful emissions from large vehicles and machines. You can also fill an FCEV quickly at a fuel pump, which is faster than waiting for the same amount of range to be added to a battery pack in an EV – although this process is speeding up.

Why haven’t we moved to hydrogen?

Cost is a major factor in speeding up the move to FCEVs. While hydrogen might be an abundant resource on the planet, setting up a hydrogen filling station is expensive. In the USA, for example, there are only 49 hydrogen fuelling stations and, in the UK, most of them are in London. The cost to fill up an FCEV is also relatively expensive – the current cost in the USA is about four times that of petrol.

While there are both pros and cons to FCEVS, research points to it being the next big thing, with 78% of auto executives agreeing to this in a KPMG survey. High costs should naturally reduce over time as the technology develops. With trials already happening on New Zealand roads with heavy vehicles, it looks like it won’t be long before we start seeing FCEV passenger cars out and about.