Quarterly Trends Report

Hydrogen vehicles: what’s the next move?

  • Multi Asset
  • Industrials
  • North America

Transport is a major driver of climate change. And, among this segment, medium and heavy duty vehicles produce an outsized volume of emissions relative to the share they represent. Consequently, much attention has been focused on new technologies that can halt emissions from this sector, and one of the most hyped areas is hydrogen fuel cells vehicles. Although prices remain too high at present for commercial viability, substantial advances have been made in the past two decades when it comes to hydrogen vehicles. Our Interviews with specialists have explored where this technology stands at present – and what it would take for the industry to race ahead.

First of all, how do hydrogen fuel cells work? A former engineer from Nikola explained that hydrogen atoms, which have one proton and one electron, are passed through a catalyst, resulting in a positively charged hydrogen ion minus its electrons. “The hydrogen ion is passed through an electrolyte while the stripped electrons are passed through a load, like an electric engine, which will ultimately drive you forward.” Oxygen then mixes with the remaining hydrogen atoms to create water – the only output.

One policy decision propelling the shift to hydrogen fuel cells comes from the Californian authorities. Adopted in 1990 but amended since, the Zero Emission Vehicle Program “has required OEMs to offer zero-emission trucks and vans starting in 2024, hence the race. Therefore, demand for fuel cells is going to increase drastically over the next three years”, the former Nikola executive explained. In addition, as a former senior executive from Hydrogenics Corp told Third Bridge Forum, California is banning all sales of vehicles with internal combustion engines in 2035. The market size is substantial: “The California Fuel Cell Partnership has said there’s a vision to have one million fuel cell vehicles by 2030.”

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