Hydrogen Fuel Cells and Lithium-Ion Batteries: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Tips for Efficient Battery Use
Tips for Efficient Battery Use

Clean transportation has become a very promising idea that is inching closer to becoming a reality.

For decades, transportation, both public and private, has hinged on the use of fossil-fuels. Vehicles have not remained in a state of technological limbo, of course, and automakers have taken nearly every opportunity afforded to them over the years to introduce new technology into future vehicles. In the modern world of transportation technological advancement means moving away from fossil-fuels is becoming more feasible, which also means that electric vehicles are beginning to gain traction.

Electric vehicles are gaining momentum around the world, partly because of their environmental prospects. These vehicles do not use fossil-fuels, relying instead on lithium-ion batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. As a result, electric vehicles produce no harmful emissions - a concept that has become very attractive to many governments around the world that are interested in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Regulations coming from these governments have helped the auto industry become more enthusiastic with their plans for electric vehicles, but clean transportation has been experiencing some turbulence in recent years.

There exists a rift in the world of clean transportation, which is embodied by the disparity in support for electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Most conventional electric vehicles are powered using lithium-ion batteries, or emerging equivalents like lithium-air batteries, while hydrogen-powered vehicles are powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Both are technically electric vehicles, but hydrogen cars tend to receive modest support from clean transportation advocates for a variety of reasons, many of which are actually valid.

Hydrogen Fuel Transportation: Today and Tomorrow

Hydrogen fuel has managed to become a very attractive source of energy for future vehicles and automakers around the world have come to support fuel cells as the ideal way to make clean transportation a reality. Hydrogen fuel cells are not however, without their faults. Cost is perhaps one of the greatest problems that faces fuel cells today, as these energy systems make use of expensive materials, like platinum, in order to function. In some cases, the cost of fuel cell manufacture directly affects the cost of the vehicles they are used in, making the final price of these vehicles prohibitively high. Another problem concerning fuel cells lies in the realm of hydrogen production, which is currently an energy intensive process that also increases the cost of hydrogen cars.

Despite the challenges that hydrogen transportation faces, much of the world's largest automakers, including Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, and Toyota, have shown strong interest in hydrogen fuel over the year. Many of these automakers have plans to commercialize hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2017 (if not sooner) but these automakers have not abandoned electric vehicles of other kinds. Indeed, the auto industry may serve as a powerful example in this regard.

Both battery-electrics and hydrogen cars can be classified as electric vehicles

Lithium-ion batteries and their variants provide electrical power to a vehicle's motor, allowing the vehicle to operate. Hydrogen fuel cells generate electrical power through the use of hydrogen gas, which is used to power a vehicle's engine. Both types of electric vehicles produce no carbon dioxide, with hydrogen vehicles emitting only water vapor and oxygen from their tailpipe. Both are seen as powerful tools in curbing emissions traditionally associated with transportation and both also face many of the same challenges. Battery-electrics and hydrogen cars are often criticized because of the performance and efficiency and both face serious challenges where infrastructure is concerned. While hydrogen-powered vehicles have managed to outperform those powered by lithium-ion batteries in some regards, both could be viable tools in the continuous quest for clean transportation.

In a world that is growing increasingly concerned over the issue of emissions, the auto industry is taking an all encompassing approach to the possibility of clean transportation. A similar approach from consumers may help expedite the arrival of a new era in transportation, if only the division that separates electric vehicles can be marginalized to the fact that two different energy sources can produce the same type of vehicle.

Author: Stephen Vagus writes for Hydrogen Fuel News as well as other leading publications. He is an aggressive and ambitious writer with several years of experience in the field of journalism. Born and raised in California, Stephen has followed his journalistic passion around the world, reporting on breaking events in countries like Japan and Qatar.