20 Mar 23

5 things you didn't know about hydrogen for fleets

Are hydrogen vehicles less safe? Is there enough investment in infrastructure? Can TCO benefit from so-called white hydrogen? To better assess the opportunities Fleet Europe lists five things every fleet manager should know about the ‘energy champagne’.

1. FCEVs are hybrids

All commercialised fuel cell drivelines are hybrids, assisted by a smaller or bigger battery pack. It helps store excess electricity from the fuel cell stack (under low-demand driving conditions) and brake recuperation. The battery also stabilises fluctuations in system output for smoother acceleration.

As hybrids, car makers can tailor them to meet the versatility of different fleets. For example, some opt for a small but powerful battery pack to enhance the driver experience (BMW iX5 Hydrogen). In contrast, others position the fuel cell stack as a range extender (Renault on its concept Scénic Vision). Then there’s the configuration with a battery pack (Opel Vivaro-e Hydrogen) that can be externally charged, which is easier in regions with insufficient infrastructure.

2. Lawmakers demand infrastructure

Forerunner Germany can pride itself on implementing a network of over a hundred hydrogen stations soon, making cross-national FCEV travel hassle-free. Investment is also growing in other major countries, as the EU provides twelve member states an incentive to roll out filling infrastructure for green hydrogen, worth 189 million euros (constructing a station costs 5 million euros). However, passenger cars and LCVs (700 bar) require a different type of pump than lorries (350 bar).

The European Parliament has already approved an AFIR ruling (Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation), which demands a hydrogen station across the European Union every 150 kilometres. However, member states still have to approve. In the UK, hydrogen companies pursue the ambition to deploy 2,000 refuelling stations by 2030 (there are currently seven operational).

3. Companies can lease a refuelling station

Want to solve the chicken-and-egg problem right now? Fleet managers can rent (or buy) a mobile storage station, which pushes the cause in the scenario of back-to-depot operations.

Working with partner PlugCharge Renault’s commercial vehicle unit offers this as an inclusive package, comprising financing of LCVs and dedicated infrastructure.

Companies can also turn to third parties like BNP Paribas, which offers to lease hydrogen stations with the aid of Hydrogen Refueling Solutions (HRS). It’s available in twenty countries.

4. White hydrogen could cost the same as fossil fuel

Many energy experts believe green hydrogen won’t sink underneath the pump price of 6 euros per kilo (in other words, more expensive than charging a BEV at home). Because of its scarcity, they think it should be reserved for applications where battery-powered solutions are less feasible or impossible, i.e. aviation, shipping and heavy-duty vehicles. Light commercial fleets are more or less in the twilight zone. Company passenger cars aren’t a priority.

But, to avoid their assets from stranding, the oil and gas industry is also looking into another direction: naturally-formed hydrogen occurring under the earth’s crust. Stakeholders believe they can bring the pump price of this white hydrogen to 1 dollar per kilogram if economies of scale are reached. However, the environmental impact of mining must be reckoned with, and white hydrogen is still very experimental.

Both the EU and the US are rolling out subsidy schemes to lower the cost of green hydrogen. Still, sceptics regard it as a drop in the ocean. As for other TCO aspects, FCEVs are expected to be capable of reaching parity with BEVs.

5. Hydrogen cars are as safe as conventional vehicles

In a vehicle, hydrogen is stored in impact- and heat-resistant carbon fibre tanks (they can even withstand a bullet shot). In case of a collision or leakage, the supply is shut off automatically, and a specifically designed relief valve takes over. This prevents pressure build-up and helps the contained hydrogen to be released in a controlled manner. As hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe, it escapes instantly.

In fact, due to the poodle forming of leaking fuel, an ICE car on fire can be more challenging to extinguish. However, like BEVs, the lithium-ion batteries from the hybrid system of an FCEV can cause concerns in the case of thermal runaway.

Any hydrogen station always performs an automated safety check first prior to the start of the refuelling procedure.

Image Source: Toyota


Authored by: Piet Andries