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  • A review of Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs)

    Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs)

    As we approach 2050, moving towards ultra-low emission energy becomes more and more important for business fleets. Ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) emit extremely low levels of motor vehicle emissions when compared to petrol or diesel alternatives, making them a much healthier alternative.

    Options available can include either pure electric vehicles (EVs), plug in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), range-extended electric vehicles (E-REVs), and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

    Here we review the health and wellbeing advantages of introducing FCEVs to your fleet of business vehicles, along with the drawbacks to help you make informed decisions on what is best for your business.

    Where hydrogen fuel cell vehicles excel

    Hydrogen powered vehicles carry advantages of quick refuelling capability along with zero emissions, as well as being the most convenient and future-proof technology available. Compared to combustion engines, they offer the same drivability without compromise to the vehicle, distances travelled and payload.

    With range anxiety being one of the biggest barriers to plug in vehicle adoption, hydrogen vehicles have the upper hand. FCEVs offer a range of around three times that of the average battery electric vehicle (BEV) so there is no problem with these vehicles being used for long-distance or heavy-duty applications. In fact, many buses and lorries are already adopting the technology where the green credentials work well combined with high power and long-range capabilities.

    Not only are they a practical route to reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality, but they also completely defy all the normal rules on depreciation. Unlike a combustion engine, the battery powered fuel cell does not wear out, therefore extending the life and value of the vehicle (other than low cost cosmetic refurbishments).

    They also tend to provide a much-improved driving experience, reduced dependence on imported energy and lower overall maintenance costs.

    Owning a fuel cell vehicle

    Driving a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is a breeze with no gears to worry about. In terms of refuelling, whilst it is much quicker (only taking a few minutes to provide a range of around 300 miles compared to a half hour rapid charge of an EV for only 100-mile range) the refuelling infrastructure is currently an issue.

    This is currently one of the biggest constraints to introducing FCEVs to your fleet, as most companies or households will not have a hydrogen refuelling unit compared to having access to an electric socket to charge an EV.

    It should also be considered that the process of converting hydrogen gas into electricity will produce only water and heat as a by-product with zero tailpipe pollution as a result. However, hydrogen powered vehicles can come under criticism for the manner in which hydrogen fuel is made delivered. Although it should be noted that the emissions generated during hydrogen production are far lower than burning petrol or diesel.

    The lifetime cost of hydrogen fuel cells

    Whilst ULEVs generally tend to cost more initially than their petrol or diesel alternatives, by applying a whole life cost approach to your fleet, it will often show that most ULEVs are much cheaper operationally on a pence-per-mile basis. Currently however, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles do cost more than combustion vehicles. 

    Hydrogen is sold in kilograms rather than volume, with current prices around £10-£15 per kg. A full tank will hold approximately 5kg. However, through increased hydrogen use costs will reduce in the future and some manufacturers are overcoming the issue by incorporating fuel costs into the cost of the lease.

    The good news for the private sector is that the government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) has however launched a £2 million fund for private sector fleets whereby they can bid for funding towards hydrogen-powered vehicles. This can equate to up to 75% off the vehicle and associated fleet costs.

    As with other ULEVs, Hydrogen FCEVs have significantly lower servicing costs when compared to a combustion engine due to the reduced number of moving parts. With zero CO2 emissions, they are also exempt from the London Congestion Charging Zone and paying VED or road tax, so these are all additional advantages for consideration.

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