With carmakers bringing exciting new technologies to the marketplace, it’s time to end the confusion about electric vehicles. Debates have raged for years about the merits of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), with strong arguments for one option over the other, as if the market was a zero-sum game.
Fuel cells are the “other” zero-emission, electric vehicle. Like BEVs, FCEVs are considered zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) since they produce no polluting emissions during the vehicle’s operation. Like electricity used to charge BEVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), hydrogen is sourced from both fossil fuels and renewable power. PHEVs, however, combine an electric motor with a small internal combustion engine and are, thus, only emission-free when operating electrically, typically with a battery-powered system that must be recharged (plugged-in).
Both battery and fuel cell-powered electric vehicles will be necessary to reach state level greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goals. An analysis by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) indicates that FCEVs, BEVs, and PHEVs using low carbon biofuels are the three most viable candidates for near-zero carbon transportation.[i] ARB also finds that all three vehicle technologieswill benecessary to achieve California’s GHG reduction target.[ii]
Leading global automakers have confidence in FCEV technologies and have invested billions of dollars in research, development, and demonstrations. Hyundai began leasing its Tucson FCEV to customers in June 2014 and, in October 2015, Toyota began deliveries of its Mirai FCEV to California customers. Honda will have its own FCEV available to customers next year. Many others, including Daimler, Nissan-Renault, General Motors, Ford, Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen have shown fuel cell electric vehicle concept cars at recent auto shows, are engaged in fuel cell research, development, and demonstration (RD&D), or have voiced support for FCEVs.
FCEVs offer a different driving and fueling experience from BEVs and will expand ZEV options to meet a wider range of consumer preferences. FCEVs are the only ZEV that totally replicates today’s driving experience and have the greatest chance to replace internal combustion engine vehicles.
- FCEVs provide a driving range of 300-400+ miles, allowing it to serve as a driver’s primary local and long-distance vehicle. BEVs’ limited range/longer recharge times means it is more likely to serve as commuter vehicle, or as a secondary vehicle that is a companion to a longer range car.
- The scalability of fuel cell technology allows it to fit into a range of light vehicles – from compact to large sedans, SUVs, and minivans. Fuel cells are even more practical in powering larger zero-emission vehicles, such as buses.
- Drivers in very hot or cold regions may prefer FCEVs, which perform consistently over a variety of temperatures with no loss of range and performance, both factors that may impact the operation of BEVs in extreme climates.[iii]
- FCEVs can be refueled in about three-to-five minutes – similar to gasoline fueling today – and will appeal to those unwilling to wait for a battery charge, which can range from 30 minutes for an 80% super charge, to several hours (given the immediate availability of a charger).
Ultimately, the ZEV choice will be personal, suiting the driving needs and lifestyle of the customer. It takes many companies providing attractive products to make a market. With offerings that span a range of performance and fueling characteristics, there will most certainly be a place for both battery vehicles and FCEVs in our ZEV future.