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There was once a time when hydrogen fuel cell vehicles seemed preposterous. Even with General Motors supplying the army with hydrogen fuel cell Chevrolet Colorado models as its testing ground, consumers were skeptic. Automakers were ready to cash in on the next big thing. The Hyundai Motor Group (parent group of the Kia Corp) was already working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in 2017, and then Hyundai and Kia launched Hydrogen Vision 2040, a new venture to introduce hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to the public as a new power source. Now that more automakers are planning to do the same, hydrogen internal combustion engines have gained attention as a possible green vehicle technology.
A pending European Union regulatory change could classify heavy-duty trucks that use hydrogen-powered engines as zero-emission vehicles. This is because such vehicles are said to be powered by a fuel with no carbon content. The exhaust of hydrogen-powered HD trucks is a low level of nitrogen oxides emissions, whereas the European Union is more concerned about carbon emissions. However, hydrogen is said to be produced from methods that are carbon-intensive. At the moment, 95-percent of all hydrogen made in the U.S. is produced using steam-methane reforming, which emits 9 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen produced.
To get around this, industries and automakers would have to invest more into green hydrogen, a method of producing hydrogen from electrolysis. This is the process of separating the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atoms in water. Before launching Hydrogen Vision 2040, Kia and Hyundai signed an agreement with Next Hydrogen to develop an alkaline water electrolysis system that would make generating green hydrogen easy and inexpensive. It can be a time consuming process, but it’s very cost-effective and could be what hydrogen fuel cell vehicle automakers need to qualify for a hydrogen production tax credit.
Remember tax credits? The Inflation Reduction Act more or less killed the federal tax credit for owners of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) – unless the components were mainly sourced and made in America. Automakers have been looking for alternatives to keep consumers in the market. The good news is the government sees it as an incentive to grow green hydrogen on a larger scale to power shipping, trucking, and marine applications. Because of this, the pass for the federal tax credit could have a better chance at passing.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could be the next fuel source on the list, but at this time, only 1-percent of hydrogen in the U.S. and 2-percent globally is produced using electrolysis. If the industry were to make hydrogen fuel cells viable, the U.S. will need to produce about five times more hydrogen than it does now, about 50 million metric tons, by 2050. Plenty of time.
Just like BEVs and PHEVs, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have their own battle to conquer. The auto industry is looking for economic and renewable energy sources that are cheap to make and still provide enough bang for the buck. What are your thoughts on hydrogen-powered vehicles? Join the discussion on NowCar social media.