Electric vehicle sales are starting to take off in Australia thanks to increasing demand, falling prices, and a widening choice of some very impressive vehicles. The same can’t be said for that other contender for the crown of greener motoring, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
On the face of it, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have plenty to offer. Their only emissions are water vapor, they offer good range, and filling them is quick and relatively easy, unlike the much longer recharging times of EVs.
That’s the good news. The not-so-good stuff is the considerable obstacles standing in the way of successfully introducing them. Not the least of them, is distributing a product that needs to be transported and stored under extremely high pressures, and at -243C. That requires copious quantities of engineering, electricity, and money.
But an interesting start-up carmaker has a novel approach that could change the equation, if only it could be adopted as an industry standard. French-Moroccan upstart NamX has built a coupe which runs on hydrogen fuel cells. Like other fuel cell vehicles, it has a regular hydrogen fuel tank, but it also has six refillable gas containers in the back of it. These are easily accessed and can be inserted like a cartridge to boost the range by up to 800 kms with all Its tanks full. The capsules, known as CApXtores, alone give 300 kms of range.
Now NamX could really be onto something here, because it overcomes so many of the limitations of hydrogen. Because unlike the conventional way of distributing hydrogen through hugely expensive hi tech filling stations, NamX’s cannisters can be stored and sold at any existing fuel station.
As a small start-up, NamX is licensing its technology, but its main game is to launch its Pininfarina-styled coupe on the market in 2025, along with a distribution network for its canisters that can be bought at CapX stores, or even delivered to its customer’s homes. Some details still seem a little sketchy at this stage, but it seems clear a green hydrogen source will refill the canisters.
Green hydrogen is produced using only renewable energy. In the case of hydrogen, colour is quite a big deal. Blue hydrogen is a product of natural gas, where the carbon emissions are captured and stored. Then there’s grey hydrogen, which is also from natural gas, but here the emissions are released into the atmosphere. The real villain in the piece is brown and black hydrogen, from brown and black coal respectively, where the carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. There are other colourstoo, but it all gets a bit arcane from here.
But even green hydrogen’s environmental credentials are questionable on some grounds. It’s true that its production produces no emissions, but there’s an argument that the energy used to produce it could be used a lot more efficiently elsewhere. Like in far more efficient battery electric vehicles, for one. There’s no getting around it, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are inherently less efficient than battery EVs.
Ultimately, it’s the market that will decide NamX’s fate, including such factors as the price of hydrogen, and the availability of those gas cylinders. But on price alone, hydrogen will always struggle to compete with the price of renewable electricity, simply because it’s an industrial product of it.