Public policies implemented in Europe with the aim of decarbonising the economy and improving air quality in urban areas are gradually reducing the cost gap between the conventional powertrain, composed of an internal combustion engine paired with the transmission shaft, and other, more environmentally friendly solutions. These include hydrogen and fuel cell technologies for transport, now mature. Hydrogen, which falls within the scope of the directive 2014/94/EU, appears likely to play an increasingly important role over the coming years.

 

Hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles are electric vehicles anyway, but they produce internally the electricity that is necessary for traction, through an electrochemical reaction. Compared to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), they have the advantages of long range and very short refuelling time. However, when compared to any other powertrain, they are reportedly expected to have a higher total ownership cost until the mid-2020s. Infrastructure investments needed to ensure a minimum number of hydrogen fuelling stations, on the other hand, are far less costly than those needed to ensure a minimum number of charging points for battery electric vehicles.

 

In the European Union, the hydrogen and fuel cell technology is one of the eight strategic priorities of the SET-Plan. Germany is the country that has invested the most at global level and plans to have up to 1,800,000 hydrogen cars in its roads by 2030. Besides Europe, the most important deployment programmes are being developed in South Korea and Japan. The Japanese commitment for hydrogen mobility, in particular, is comparable to that of Germany, with about a thousand hydrogen fueling points planned by 2025. In the United States, California is undoubtedly the most advanced State when it comes to hydrogen mobility, as 100 hydrogen refueling points are expected to be available to the public by 2024.

All major car manufacturers have invested in this technology. Some of them - including Hyundai - have recently launched series production, whereas others are planning to do so by 2020. Hydrogen and fuel cell mobility is not limited to light-duty passenger vehicles (LDPVs) only, but it is already a well-established reality for urban buses and for forklift trucks. In addition, projects for hydrogen mobility are in the pipeline in the rail sector as well, which have the advantage of saving the costs associated with the installation and maintenance of power lines along railway tracks. Hydrogen transport in waterways also appears to be possible.

Example of an integrated energy system based on hydrogen as a vector

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