Should you buy that electric vehicle or go for a hydrogen fuel cell car

Should you buy that electric vehicle or go for a hydrogen fuel cell car By Vivek Hansdah - March 24, 2022
hydrogen fuel cell car

hydrogen fuel cell car

Countries across the world have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions and lower the use of fossil fuels in their bid to tackle climate change. This has pushed many automakers to seek alternative methods to power vehicles. Currently, all-electric vehicles (EV) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the frontrunners of zero-emission transportation.

But how does the newer fuel cell technology work and how do these two technologies compare?

How does a hydrogen fuel cell EV work?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are powered by compressed hydrogen gas stored in a tank that feeds into an onboard fuel cell “stack” that transforms the fuel’s chemical energy into electrical energy. This powers the car’s electric motors. The only waste product is water.

The fuel cell comprises multiple cells. Hydrogen gas enters the anode of the cell and meets a catalyst that separates hydrogen atoms into electrons and protons. The electrons are gathered by the conductive current collector that feeds the onboard battery and/or the motors.


The range of electric cars is dependent on the capacity/size of the battery pack. One of the most expensive fully electric cars, the Tesla Model S, provides a range of 575 km.

On the other hand, hydrogen fuel cell EVs provide a greater range with just a small tank of hydrogen. The Toyota Mirai offers a range of 650 km on a full tank of 5.6 kg hydrogen fuel.


Currently, infrastructure for refuelling hydrogen fuel cell cars is far less as compared to the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles.

Also Read: Hydrogen fuel cell EV Toyota Mirai launched in India; all you need to know

Safety is a key concern for hydrogen fuel cell cars due to the highly inflammable nature of hydrogen. However, modern fuel cell EVs have advanced safety measures to minimise risk. For instance, Toyota Mirai has a patented design to prevent hydrogen leakage and it shuts off the flow of hydrogen in the event of a collision. The fuel tank is stored outside of the cabin, thus in the event of a leak, the gas will vent out.

Electric car batteries also have their safety concerns. The lithium-ion batteries can overheat or overcharge to cause injury. In case of a fire, the batteries can ignite and are difficult to put out as the fuel for the fire is not vented.

Automakers have been working to solve these issues by regulating temperatures and using multiple sets of smaller batteries to avoid overcharging. Other safety challenges are met well by both types of cars when compared to combustion engine cars.

Also Read: Why Asia's biggest economies are backing hydrogen fuel cell cars, explained

Both hydrogen and electric cars are zero-emissions but by-products such as CO2 are released into the atmosphere during the manufacturing and fuel extraction processes.

Producing hydrogen fuel for fuel cell EVs takes huge amounts of electricity and manufacturing lithium-ion batteries is also an energy-intensive process. The batteries in EVs are charged with electricity mostly generated using fossil fuels.

Cost of ownership

Electric cars are costly, but hydrogen fuel cell cars are a bit more expensive than all-electric cars. There are budget options available for electric cars but that is not the case for hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Hydrogen vehicles are more expensive to refuel as well. The cost of refuelling a Toyota Mirai (5.6 kg tank) in India can be around Rs 840-2,800 depending on the source of hydrogen (Grey or Green). On the other hand, for charging an EV battery of a Tata Nexon EV the cost could be Rs 150-240 depending on the infrastructure (private or public) and cost of electricity per unit.

Charging/refuelling time

The refuelling time for fuel cell EVs can be between 3 and 10 minutes whereas EVs might take up to 30 minutes at a minimum and 8 hours at max to charge depending on the model, type of charger, and battery capacity.


By Vivek Hansdah - March 24, 2022

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