The BuzzWhat the (Fuel) Cell?!

What the (Fuel) Cell?!


When it comes to future fuels in vehicles, two different variations are becoming the clear-cut competitors as to what will become the new norm: hydrogen fuel cell electric, and battery-powered electric.

Battery Boom

As you’re on our site, chances are you’ll understand a fair bit about the battery-powered version – in a nutshell,  a car with an electric motor powered by a battery – think of a scaled-up version of that toy car you used to own. To recharge the battery you, simply plug it into a charger and let it do its thing. You’ll get a full charge in anything from eight hours to 30 mins depending on the charger output (that’s another minefield in itself).

Battery-powered EVs have gained a lot of momentum recently with the public becoming far more aware as they see more and more on the streets. If you sit in an electric car and charge it in your local car park, supermarket or shopping centre you, will notice many people pointing and staring like you have grown a second head.

Lexus LF-FC Powertrain
Lexus LF-FC Powertrain

But the other alternative clean fuel that seems to be slipping under the radar is the fuel-cell EV.

What is fuel-cell technology and how does it work?

In laymen’s terms it’s a car that fuelled by hydrogen. The engine runs off electricity similar to that of a ‘conventional’ EV but generates its charge from a fuel-cell: a chemical reaction between the hydrogen and oxygen produces power that is stored in the cell.

Is it harmful to the environment?

Before the environmentalists crucify us, obviously everything produced in a factory has some effect on the environment. But for the purpose of driving it, it’s essentially emission free. The car has an exhaust pipe but the only thing emitted out of it is water vapour (though we won’t be drinking from it anytime soon…)

Lexus LF-FC
Lexus LF-FC

What about the range?

On tests, fuel-cell technology isn’t reaching a diesel-powered car’s range yet, but will out-range a Nissan Leaf with around 270-300 miles. Though we have yet to test a fuel-cell car so will update you once we have driven one.

So do you plug-in a fuel-cell? How do I recharge?

So this is a major issue currently with the technology. The infrastructure really isn’t in place to own one yet. To refuel a hydrogen car you need to fill it with hydrogen which means you need a storage unit and a pump, so essentially the same as filling a combustion engine up at the petrol station. So for these to exist they will need to start placing them inside similar service stations (not sure if the oil companies will like this too much). On the upside you won’t need to wait for it to charge: the turnaround will be same as it is now with petrol/diesel. And we all love familiarity, right?

What car can I buy that is fuel-cell?

At present, similar to electric cars, you have limited choices. Though the two main manufactures Toyota/Lexus and Honda/Infiniti are invested heavily into this technology and are starting to roll out various models.

Toyota Mirai
Toyota Mirai

Would you buy one?

In short, no. The reason being that the refuelling infrastructure isn’t in place yet and we’re not sure when this will be ready. If we look at government investments and the trends around the world it seems that the balance is leaning towards placing more fast charging points around rather than hydrogen stations. For us, performance is an issue, talking with Honda they feel that people are more concerned with range than performance, which on mass may be true, but for us, we’d rather jump into a Tesla and be able to hit 0-60 in 2.9 seconds. We also love that instant torque and the driving feeling with a fully electric car.

Our final reason is about the refuelling. We no longer want to visit a petrol station, you have to queue and you end up buying an overpriced bottle of water. We want to park the car outside our house and wake up next morning ready to go, fully charged.

“Why do I want to go to a petrol station, it only gives me more things to do!”

This is a crucial moment in automotive history and we will look back on this point in history and say “Wow did we really put that fuel in our car and just pollute our world like that?!” so we’re happy to see more than just one technology being invested in. Will it be like cassettes vs A-Trak or Blu Ray vs HD-DVD where there is only one winner? Or will we see both working alongside each other? Only time will tell. For now we’re going to jump on our bikes and go to the pub for a few drinks! (Still can’t drive and do this, until fully-autonomous driving that is 😉 – see what Volvo has to say about this here.

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