Published in Transportation

Fuel cell cars will be a commercial failure

by on13 November 2020

IDTechEx warns of 20 years of losses

The IDTechEx report “Advanced Electric Cars 2020–2040” forecasts fuel cell cars globally up to 2040, and finds they will continue to be a commercial failure for the next two decades.

While fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have been on the table as the long-range zero-emission vehicles to challenge the battery-electric vehicle (BEV), they have major drawbacks:

The report said that fuel cell cars cost over 1.6x as much to buy and up to three times as much to run in fuel costs, depending on your location, compared to the average internal combustion engine.

Meanwhile BEVs are increasingly reaching TCO parity with ICE vehicles in different markets around the world today.

FCEVs rely on Li-ion batteries for high power and energy harvesting, increasing costs (the Nikola One has a 250kWh battery).

Fuel cells have moving parts, which means maintenance costs can be higher than BEVs.

Batteries are heading towards million-mile life and 1000-mile range with 2 - 4C charging this decade: by the time fuel cell cars are affordable, batteries will have caught up and will be cheaper.

Fundamentally, it costs more energy to drive per mile using hydrogen than a battery because of the 60 percent efficiency with heat losses, in addition to using electricity from the grid to create green hydrogen, the report said.

The report said that one of the common arguments for fuel cells is that they can provide longer pure-electric ranges however this advantage is being eroded by the sheer pace of innovation and research for Li-ion batteries.

The IDTechEx report said the top three fuel cell car models are the Toyota Mirai, with 300 miles range, the Hyundai Nexo, with 413 miles range and the Honda Clarity, with 316 miles of range.

Yet earlier in 2020, Tesla revealed a 400-mile Model S (EPA), spurred on by healthy competition from rival Lucid Motors which later announced the ‘Lucid Air’ BEV sedan would be the first production car with 500 miles pure electric range EPA, with initial sales planned for Q1 next year. And this is without considering potential for solar bodywork: the Lightyear One, on sale next year, achieves a 463 mile range with only a 50kWh battery.

On the topic of range and range anxiety, it is also important to consider the ubiquitous deployment of charging infrastructure. Currently, sufficient hydrogen re-fuelling infrastructure does not exist to make fuel-cell car purchases tempting even for the early adopter, in part because they are an order of magnitude more expensive to deploy than fast electric chargers, as shown below.

The report said that FCEVs will have wider uptake in certain countries with a strategy for a broader hydrogen economy, but this will be regionally isolated and not the global trend. It will also prove a disadvantage for automakers having to develop different zero emission vehicles for different regions, particularly as startups focus purely on BEVs and set the bar high.

Last modified on 13 November 2020
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