Why use hydrogen vehicles? According to Eurostat and the OECD, road transport in Europe is expected to grow by 82% between 2015 and 2050. Solutions will need to be found to manage this amount of traffic on our roads. The key issue is the level of pollutant emissions it could generate. Apart from congestion due to the volume of vehicles, an important issue to be solved is to limit GHGs (greenhouse gases) and transport-related air pollutants. It is estimated that 8-10% of GHG emissions are due to specific freight transport activities.
According to the most recent data provided by the Dirección General de Tráfico, there are 24,558,126 vehicles on the road in Spain in 2021. This compares with 24,074,151 in 2018. In other words, between 2018 and 2021, 483,985 units have been registered. If we add mopeds, vans, trucks and other transport vehicles to this number, we could say that Spain has a total of 36,343,283 vehicles that can circulate daily in our country.
Climate Change and Energy Transition Law
The Climate Change and Energy Transition Act, approved in April 2021, sets 2050 as the date for achieving climate neutrality and a fleet of cars and commercial vehicles without greenhouse gas emissions. The same law explains that from 2040 no petrol or diesel cars can be sold.
One of the main alternatives for transport is therefore hydrogen. The Hydrogen Roadmap, approved by the Spanish Government in 2020, envisages the implementation of a network of at least 100 hydrogen plants by 2030. In terms of logistics warehouses in Spain, only the logistics operator FM Logistic has a hydrogen plant. This will be the first of a network of hydrogenerators for own consumption in the near future. The aim is to substantially reduce the carbon footprint and thus contribute to the decarbonisation of the logistics sector.
Even the employers’ association of vehicle manufacturers in Spain (Anfac), in view of this high need, proposes measures that should be implemented to promote hydrogen in mobility and achieve the decarbonisation objectives by 2050. Among the measures are: incentives for the purchase of hydrogen vehicles by private individuals, purchases or acquisitions by public entities for police fleets, buses or taxis and, of course, aid plans for the development of refuelling infrastructures for these vehicles.
Benefits of hydrogen vehicles over traditional fuels
Hydrogen fuel cells do not generate greenhouse gases during the combustion of hydrogen. This is unlike traditional fuels, diesel and gasoline, which do release these pollutant gases.
Diesel and petrol fuel can also pollute soil and water in case of leakage. Hydrogen, being 14 times lighter than air, escapes into the atmosphere without polluting any environment or ecosystem.
In terms of energy efficiency, the percentage is 35% for diesel and petrol compared to 60% for hydrogen fuel cells. This percentage corresponds to the energy actually obtained out of the total energy provided.
The range of a traditional car is 750-800 km compared to the 650 km range of the Toyota Mirai hydrogen vehicle, for example. This model has beaten the 1000 km record set in France and the United States, thanks to optimised driving efficiency. The recharge time in both cases is similar, around 5 minutes in total.
Low temperatures directly affect petrol and diesel cars. But not in the case of hydrogen-powered cars. However, one of the major drawbacks of hydrogen-powered cars is their cost, which is much higher than that of traditional cars.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
Currently only two hydrogen fuel cell cars are marketed in Spain, the Hyundai NEXO and the Toyota Mirai. However, there are currently not even 20 cars of this type in circulation. Toyota is a pioneer in hydrogen vehicles, but several brands already have hydrogen passenger car projects underway, such as Hyundai, Honda, Mercedes, BMW and Land Rover. Hopium Machina is the model being produced by the new brand Hopium, a company of “luxury” hydrogen vehicles only, and this model has a range of 1000 km. Also, Citroën, Peugeot, Opel and Renault are already putting hydrogen-powered vans on the market.