Green cars rivalry: Hydrogen vs all-electric

The quest for green cars just became a lot more complex for the world's fleet managers. While it seemed like the fuel-efficient car market was likely going to be dominated by hybrid and all-electric vehicles, some automotive manufacturers are investigating further options. 

The most significant rival of these two current options are hydrogen or fuel-cell vehicles. At this stage, these cars are in the very early stages of consumer adoption, with the Toyota Mirai only available in a few territories. 

However, despite the popularity of all-electric cars such as the Tesla Model S, a vehicle with a notable cult following, the battle isn't over. Interestingly, both hydrogen and all-electric vehicles exhibit mostly the same set of pros and cons, and will face the same challenges over the coming years. Which one will be right for your fleet? 

The pros

Toyota is arguably the current leader of the hydrogen vehicle market. Its Mirai has already proven a capable car for consumers. Now, it just needs the supporting infrastructure to develop in other countries. So what makes it tick?

The only waste product from hydrogen cars is water. The only waste product from hydrogen cars is water.

Essentially, fuel cell vehicles are electric cars, they just don't need to spend hours charging like most varieties. Instead, the refuelling process is similar to how people currently top up petrol cars, just with a different type of fuel. 

Hydrogen and oxygen combine to charge the vehicle's fuel cell stack, which in turn sends electricity to the drive battery and the motor. Many people are familiar with the long list chemical products internal combustion engines emit. The result of this interaction between hydrogen and oxygen? Water. 

The cons

As with any technology still in its relative infancy, fuel-cell vehicle owners cannot access the same infrastructure as petrol or electric automobiles. In fact, according to an October 6 article from CarsGuide, there's only one hydrogen refuelling station in the country, which is limited to Hyundai vehicles. 

That isn't stopping Toyota from testing the waters in Australia though. The World Hydrogen Technologies convention was held on 11-14 October, at which the manufacturer showcased the Toyota Mirai. 

Who else is investigating the technology?

Although Toyota and Hyundai have already established their presence on the international market with the Mirai and Tucson FCV respectively, there are other manufacturers following in their footsteps, or tyre tracks. 

Most of the support for hydrogen cars is coming from Japan.Most of the support for hydrogen cars is coming from Japan.

The recent NSX sports car represented Honda's commitment to green cars, with the performance vehicle using a hybrid powertrain to impress the motoring media. Since then, the Japanese manufacturer has announced plans to take this to the next level. 

Honda is developing the Clarity Fuel Cell for release next year, representing a major commitment to hydrogen vehicles over their all-electric counterparts. The organisation stated the vehicle's fuel cell, which is now a third smaller than the company's previous prototypes, will output more than 100 kilowatts of power, perfect for fleet managers in metropolitan areas. 

The technology won't just be the domain of Japanese manufacturers, either. BMW announced plans to release its own hydrogen-powered equivalent to the general public by 2020, suggesting development of the supporting systems is already well underway. 

According to an October 29 Reuters article, Head of Fuel Cell Development Merten Jung made comments revealing the resulting vehicle could be just what fleet managers are after. 

"We don't have a model yet, but ... as the character of our technology favours larger cars, our model will probably be something like a long distance car, a larger sedan," he said. 

The demand for green cars in the future is promoting a significantly amount of competition between various technologies and manufacturers. The real winner, however, is likely to be drivers.