Is the Future of Cars Electric or Hydrogen?

Tom Bartlett, 3 years ago

4 min read

  • Advice
  • Electric
  • buyingguide

WhoCanFixMyCar explores the pros and cons of electric vs hydrogen cars.

As we edge ever closer towards the Government’s zero emissions date of 2050, one of the key factors in achieving this target will be how we address the needs of the private motorist, especially with ICE (otherwise known as Internal Combustion Engine) cars currently contributing over a fifth of the total greenhouse gas emissions in this country.

Surge in popularity of electric vehicles

The good news is the surge in popularity of electric vehicles. New research from the RAC has found the number of electric vehicles in use in October 2021 has now overtaken plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) with 332,299 cars now being driven compared with 327,183 PHEVs.

This follows the highest number of electric vehicle registrations in September 2021, when a whopping 32,721 units were sold. That’s almost a third more than the same time in 2020 and points towards the race by all concerned to achieve emission free motoring much sooner than anticipated.

However, even with such spectacular growth, electric vehicles still only represent one per cent of the total number of vehicles being driven on our roads. This does beg the question though, given the Government’s target, will this be enough for us to be totally carbon neutral in under 30 years?

The Pros

  • Zero emissions

  • More cost effective to run

  • Lower maintenance costs 

The Cons

  • Relatively expensive to buy

  • High greenhouse emissions when manufacturing the battery

  • Small range – especially in cold conditions

  • Poor charging infrastructure and slow charging

Is hydrogen the answer?

We’re now starting to see hydrogen-powered cars appearing on our roads. While admittedly in very low numbers, less than a 1,000 at the last count, they do offer a number of major advantages over electric, namely distance, which is similar to a current petrol car, and filling up, which can be done at a normal petrol station.

How do hydrogen cars work?

Just like their electric cousins, hydrogen cars produce no emissions, which is key. Instead, the hydrogen is fed into a fuel tank and combined with oxygen to produce electricity which in turn drives the vehicle. The only by product of this is water – good old fashioned H20.

The Pros

  • No emissions – same as a battery electric vehicle

  • Can fill at a fuel pump same as you would now with a normal vehicle – which would only take a few minutes

  • Mileage is the same as any current petrol vehicle right now

  • Unlikely to ever run out of hydrogen

The Cons

  • Expensive to power when compared to charging a battery electric vehicle

  • Lack of infrastructure – Refuelling locations: there are currently only 17 refuelling stations in the UK and each station costs £1.3 million to build

  • Isolating hydrogen can often release greenhouse gases

What will the future be – electric or hydrogen?

That’s the million-dollar question. All we can say is that both are great solutions for the current problem we are facing. It’s impossible to say which one will dominate the market moving forward or whether we’ll have a mix of both, because as you can see, both come with advantages and disadvantages.

What we can be sure of though is that over the next decade we can expect to see a significant increase in the sale of both electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as buying behaviours dramatically change among drivers. Whether the infrastructure is available to support such exponential growth is a matter for another blog!