Hydrogen vs electric cars

Hydrogen and electric cars are two of the most environmentally friendly vehicles on offer. But what’s the difference between them and which should you choose?

Written by Verity Hogan
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In recent years, more and more people have started looking for environmentally-friendly alternatives to petrol and diesel cars. Especially as the government has vowed to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

This makes sense. After all, a typical passenger vehicle kicks out a massive 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Two of the most environmentally friendly vehicles available are electric cars and hydrogen cars. But what’s the difference between the two? And which should an environmentally conscious driver go for?

Read on to find out which green machine really is the future of motor driving.

What is an electric car?

In short, an electric car uses electricity to operate the wheels instead of petrol or diesel, which you’d typically find in a traditional car.

A large battery is connected to the motor, which lets users drive and steer the car. The battery also powers other parts of the car, such as the stereo and lights.

To charge an electric car, you need to plug it into a port (like you would do with your laptop or mobile). These ports can be found in public places and at service stations across the UK. A lot of electric car owners also have a charging port in their driveways too.

What is a hydrogen car?

Fans of hydrogen cars, also known as hydrogen fuel cell cars, hail them as the future of eco-friendly driving. This is because hydrogen is the most abundant element in the world and the cleanest form of fuel.

A hydrogen car is powered by the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to produce water and electricity.

While hydrogen has been powering engines for longer than you think – since 1807 – car manufacturers are still developing and experimenting with hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Hydrogen vs Electric: cost to buy

Electric cars (EV) are far more widely available than hydrogen cars so, as you’d expect, they come at a lower cost.

In fact, there’s only one hydrogen car currently available in the UK, the Hyundai Nexo, which comes in at the princely sum of £69,495.

Electric cars, on the other hand, can be bought new for as little as £15,000 for the Skoda CITIGOe IV and there are many for under £30,000 in the new and used car markets.

Hydrogen vs Electric: cost to charge and run

The cost to charge an electric car can vary quite a lot depending on where you charge it: at home, a service station or public charging point.

Let’s take a motorway service station as an example, where the fastest charge points can usually be found. For 30 minutes of charging, which will get you approximately 100 miles in distance, it will cost approximately £7.

However, some public spaces let electric vehicle (EV) drivers charge their car for free. Plus, Tesla have a “Supercharger Network” that features some charging ports that also let drivers charge their cars for free.

Hydrogen fuel is measured in kilos rather than litres. Taking the Hyundai Nexo as an example, it would cost between £63 to £95 to fill.

What would this get you? A whopping 414 miles of travel, so to get 100 miles it would cost between £16 and £24 – which is quite a bit more than an electric car.

Hydrogen vs Electric: time and convenience to fill or charge

Electric cars can be charged in many different places, including at home, public places with charging ports and service stations with charging ports. In short, there are plenty of places to charge an electric car.

This isn’t the case for hydrogen cars. In fact, there are approximately only 12 filling stations for hydrogen cars in the entire of the UK, which is bad news if you don’t live near one.

However, hydrogen cars can be filled with fuel far faster than their electric counterparts. While it’ll take about 30 minutes to fully charge an electric car, it will take the same amount of time to refill a hydrogen car as it would a petrol or diesel car.

A full ‘tank’ on a hydrogen car will also get you further. The Hyundai Nexo (the only current hydrogen car on the market) will get your more than 400 miles of travel, while the strongest EV batteries will only get you about 300 miles of travel.

Hydrogen vs Electric: which is more eco-friendly?

Hydrogen cars are very much in their infancy as manufacturers wrangle over how to get the most out of this technology, while electric cars continue to become more widely available and the technology improved and refined.

Both hydrogen and electric cars are substantially more energy efficient than petrol and diesel cars.

The only waste produced by a hydrogen car is the water booted out from the tailpipe. Plus, a hydrogen car’s air filters can also draw-in and clean dirty air around it, so they’re helping to clean the environment around them as they drive.

Electric cars have no tailpipe at all and produce absolutely no C02 emissions. Research has shown that a single electric car can reduce C02 emissions on average by 1.5 million grams.

Though both electric cars and hydrogen cars aren’t completely pure.

Hydrogen is mainly extracted by breaking down water through electrolysis or natural gas. This in itself produces C02 emissions, meaning the process isn’t 100% eco-friendly.

Also, more emissions are created during the production of an electric car than a conventional diesel or petrol car. The actual production of an electric car accounts for a third of the total amount of C02 the car will produce in its lifetime.

Regardless of this, both hydrogen and electric cars have been found to reduce carbon emissions by up to 30% compared to petrol and diesel.

And while technology evolves over time, the production process for both will become more refined and eco-friendly.

Hydrogen vs Electric: the verdict

Until hydrogen car technology evolves and catches up, electric cars are going to lead the way. Electric cars are:

  • Cheaper to run
  • Cheaper to purchase
  • More widely available
  • Easier to charge
  • Equally as environmentally friendly

Maybe one day hydrogen car technology will take-over – especially if the production process becomes cleaner. But until then, we’re giving electric cars the green light.

Verity Hogan

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