Hydrogen (H2) is a versatile energy source with a number of uses. It can be used in vehicles powered by fuel cells and can be fed into the natural gas grid in connection with the subsequent generation of electricity or heat, or it can serve as a raw material for the chemical industry and for synthesis processes (power-to-X). The synthetic energy sources obtained through power-to-X processes, so-called e-fuels, can be traded globally in the future like crude oil and natural gas. Green hydrogen will have a key role to play in a climate-neutral economy.
Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by green hydrogen (H2) are one of the most environmentally and climate-friendly solutions for transport, especially over long distances. A fuel cell already has about twice the efficiency of a combustion engine. Depending on the mode of operation, efficiency is up to 65%. The technology is ready for the market, and the first ten thousand fuel cell vehicles are being tested worldwide.
While FCEVs are powered by an electric motor, their technology differs significantly from battery electric vehicles (BEVs) because the electricity is generated directly on board using H2 and air. The heat generated as a by-product can be used to heat the interior. A battery supports the fuel cell system during acceleration and regenerative braking. The main advantages of FCEVs over BEVs are fast refuelling and their long range (approx. 3 minutes for 500 km) as well as their lower weight. In addition to powering long-distance limousines, they are particularly suitable for buses, heavy-load vehicle transport, trains and ships. In the long term, FCEVs powered by green hydrogen could be used to replace diesel engines in their typical areas of application.
Commercial, series-ready models, cars and lorries are currently available in Germany through two Asian manufacturers (Toyota, since 2014, and Hyundai, since 2013). Mercedes Benz has been using the GLC F-CELL as a test fleet since 2018. Other manufacturers have announced first fleets for the mid-2020s: IVECO is starting to produce the Nikola TRE battery and fuel cell powered lorry at its Ulm plant in 2021 and intends to have the first models available by 2023. In Switzerland, 1,600 heavy-duty lorries from Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility (HHM) will be on the road by 2025. In addition, buses and the first scheduled hydrogen-powered local trains are already in operation in several locations. According to international roadmaps, more than one million fuel cell vehicles are planned for China by 2030, and Korea has announced 700,000 fuel cell vehicles for 2025. In Japan, about 800,000 fuel cell cars are planned to be on the road by 2030.