Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have a window of opportunity for reaching the mass market, but that window will close if it doesn’t happen soon, according to an IHS Automotive study.
While plans are in place to expand fuel cell cars from three on the market today – the Toyota Mirai, Hyundai ix35/Tucson and the Honda Clarity – to 17, it’s not going to see real growth in the U.S. for a few years. The three fuel cell models are only available in California for now in the U.S. market.
Most of these new models will be rolled out in Japan and Korea initially, and by 2021, European carmakers are expected to take a leading role as government emissions targets get tougher. By 2027, IHS says fuel cell vehicle production will reach 70,000 units, but that will still represent less than 0.1 percent of all vehicles produced in the world.
For Ben Scott, a senior analyst at IHS Automotive and the study’s author, fuel cells have a window of opportunity to get firmly stabled in the marketplace including a few advantages over battery electric vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have longer driving range and shorter fueling times than EVs. “Refueling habits with a fuel cell vehicle will be very similar to that of a conventional car. This will definitely help with customer acceptance,” Scott said.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for mass adoption has been the limited refueling infrastructure. Today there are only about 100 public hydrogen stations in the world, with 16 in the U.S. One of the challenges has been the cost of installing one of these stations – more than $3 million – which gives relatively inexpensive EV chargers stations a competitive edge.
Hydrogen is being used now industrial applications such as hydrogen-powered forklifts. This hydrogen comes mainly from fossil fuels like natural gas and coal. To produce it from renewable sources is much more expensive. “There is currently a trade-off between hydrogen carbon footprint and cost,” Scott said.
Battery technology is improving each year, which puts more pressure on fuel cell technologies. Lithium batteries are seeing improvements in costs per kilowatt-hour decreasing and energy density increasing. Fuel cell electric vehicles have about 20-to-25 years to move past early adopters or they’ll remain in niche market status, according to Scott. “This could be a ‘now or never’ situation for FCEVs in mass market mobility,” said Scott.