Breaking Down ICEV Alternatives: Electric vs. Hydrogen Vehicles
It seems like every fleet today is searching for a simple answer to their sustainability concerns. Whether that be exploring alternative fuels, using data analytics to minimize waste or phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles; It is clear that there is no quick fix. Especially as each fleet is unique in its operation and needs.
For those opting to phase out ICEVs, the go-to alternative is typically electric vehicles. There are nearly 100 different models of EVs on the market today and the promise of electric pick-up trucks in the near future is an exciting prospect as well. For fleets with heavier duty vehicles, however, EVs will not be an option for a very long time.
Another technology being explored and invested into by OEMs is hydrogen-powered vehicles. There is a ton of potential for using the most abundant element on Earth to power vehicles, though the idea has not become mainstream as of yet.
Let’s take a look into how these two ICEV alternatives work, how they compare and how they perform in terms of sustainability.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
Hydrogen vehicles, known as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), use hydrogen as their main source of fuel. These vehicles show promise as sustainable ICEV alternatives as they don’t rely on any heavy-polluting fuels, nor do they need electric charge from dirty grids.
Though FCEV technology is still in its early stages, they are believed to get up to 400 miles of range per tank of hydrogen. Still, they have yet to reach mass adoption for several reasons such as suboptimal design and a general market focus on electric vehicles instead.
There are currently two FCEV passenger models available for purchase, Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo. Additionally, the market for FCEVs is expected to grow to reach $42,038.9 million by 2026.
How do they work?
Just like battery electric vehicles, FCEVs have an electric motor and no internal combustion engine. Instead, they use a propulsion system that converts hydrogen into electricity to power the motor. This happens by hydrogen in the tank entering the fuel cell, where it mixes with pure oxygen, creating a chemical reation that generates electricity to power the motor. Through this process of electrolysis, however, nearly 60 percent of total energy is lost, which is significantly higher than the 20 percent lost in EVs. This is a major weak point in FCEV technology which needs to improve if hydrogen vehicles are to ever be widely adopted.
Battery electric vehicles
Battery electric vehicles, or EVs, are different from FCEVs because while they also have an electric motor, they are powered externally by electricity rather than internally by fuel. Unlike FCEVs who don’t require any additional infrastructure, EVs can have quite a high cost of acquisition for fleets, as the vehicles depend on electric vehicle supply equipment for fueling.
EVs come in a wide range of models with numerous passenger vehicles on the market, as well as some pickup trucks, vans and buses. Vehicle range can vary widely as well, and OEMs often offer a standard and extended range version of the same vehicle. However, there are not really heavy-duty options available yet to fill this need for fleets.
One concern with electric vehicles moving forward is weight of the lithium-ion battery inside. As heavier duty vehicles will need greater battery power, these batteries will inevitably need to be larger and heavier which can raise some logistical concerns. Still, the electric vehicle market has grown very quickly, projected to reach $802.81 billion by 2027, so innovations are expected to come over time.
How do they work?
Since EVs have no internal combustion engine, they rely on an electric motor and battery pack to power the vehicle. The lithium-ion battery is charged using the charging plug of the user’s choice, with plugs ranging in charging speed and infrastructure costs. Energy is then stored in the lithium-ion batteries, which are used due to their ability to store a high level of energy in a relatively small amount of mass. Most EVs on the market now get between 150 to 300 miles of range on a full charge, with newer models being released with extended range options.
How do EVs and PHEVs compare?
There are various factors that have contributed to the greater success of EVs, leaving an untapped potential of FCEVs. Let’s take a look at just a couple of those factors.
One problem that is present for both ICEV alternatives is a lack of options for diverse fleets. Though there are a couple FCEV models and around 100 EV options for managers looking to phase out their traditional gas vehicles, there is still a major lack when it comes to anything heavier duty than passenger vehicles. A major reason why hydrogen vehicles haven’t quite yet taken off is due to the major focus on electric vehicles as the primary replacement for ICEVs.
For example, Honda recently discontinued their own hydrogen model in 2021, and some OEMs that had previously committed to developing FCEVs have gone back on their plans, showing some hesitation for investing into hydrogen vehicles. On the other hand, the EV market is consistently growing year over year, with new offerings for electric passenger vehicles, vans and trucks.
Another important point to consider is sustainability, as the idea is so fundamental to the purpose of these vehicles. Several studies have found that as things are now, it is far more sustainable to power a vehicle with hydrogen than to charge it from an electrical grid. This is due to several factors.
Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements on Earth. It has incredibly high energy content by weight, and it is also considered the cleanest fuel available, as it burns completely cleanly, emitting exhaust that is pure water. Though EVs emit no exhaust at all, most greenhouse gases associated with EVs come from primarily coal-powered grids. National grids will inevitably face a renewable energy transformation in upcoming decades, which will help to make electric vehicles a true net-zero emissions option for fleets. However, as it stands now, hydrogen provides a more sustainable, but more expensive, solution.
Regardless of how your fleet decides to approach a sustainability strategy, one thing is clear: there are plenty of options for doing so. The is no single solution that will work for all fleets, and strategies should be prepared to be flexible as policies and technologies continue to evolve. It is always worth staying informed on the current options for your fleet rather than trying to play catch-up down the line.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Utilimarc can help you make the most of your electric vehicle and/or alternative fuel data, schedule a live demo with our analytics team.