Batteries more sustainable than fuel cells, study says

Batteries more sustainable than fuel cells, study says

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Fuel cell fans must be very strong now: Battery electric cars are clearly superior over fuel cell, at least in terms of sustainability. The reason is that hydrogen requires a very costly infrastructure; batteries therefore are the more cost-effective solution.

A team of researchers around Sally Benson, head of the Stanford Global Climate and Energy project. The team compared multiple different development scenarios for the time span until 2035, based on data of the Californian town of Los Altos Hills near San Francisco. The study also considered how the different electromobility approaches affect the overall energy consumption.

“If you take into account the total costs, you come to the conclusion that battery-driven electric vehicles are the superior solution to reduce the emissions, better than fuel cell vehicles”, said TUM doctorate Markus Felgenhauer who is also working for carmaker BMW in the area of energy management. The study shows that the fuel station infrastructure required for fuel cell vehicles is rather costly. To offset the additional cost it would be necessary to make the vehicles significantly cheaper. However, for the foreseeable future his won’t happen – quite the contrary, Felgenhauer explained.

The study also made clear that another supposed advantage of hydrogen won’t materialize: Temporarily storing redundant solar energy is not a realistic assumption. The town selected for the study, Los Altos Hills, would use only a very little amount of the energy contained in hydrogen for heating and illumination in 2035. This was an aspect the proponents of the fuel cell approach had hoped for, because it would justify the purchase of electrolyzers to generate hydrogen by means of solar energy. Without this element, the hydrogen fuel cell technology has a rather poor ecological footprint, because conventional hydrogen generation is based on natural gas – a process that releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. In contrast, the usage of batteries becomes CO2 neutral as soon as the batteries can be used as buffer for electric energy.

Though with Los Altos Hills the researchers picked a sunny and wealthy town with high solar energy capacity and a high percentage of electric vehicles, these results are relevant for many municipalities in California, the researchers argue. Now they are hoping to acquire a larger network of communities in future studies. Thus, they would be able to investigate further relevant factors that could influence consumer’s choice between battery and fuel cell.

More information:

Related articles:

R&D project speeds up market entry of fuel cell cars

Fuel cell plane completes maiden flight

High cost limits the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells says Lux Research


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