Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are an intriguing subject for anyone remotely interested in green technology. Several Asian car manufacturers including Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai have bet big on fuel cell technology, even shunning all-electric vehicles (EVs) in favor of FCVs. Despite this move, FCVs are lagging way behind EVs in total global sales. Total volume for sales of FCVs was a paltry 2,300 for 2018. Compare that with sales of over over 2 million for EVs and one begins to wonder if the big names in the Asian automotive world have bet on the wrong horse. Toyota’s Mirai, the most popular FCV moved a mere 1,700 units for 2018, a decrease of over 7% from 2017! Why aren’t FCVs selling and what are automakers doing about it?

The Tech

Fuel cell systems differ from traditional internal combustion technologies in that they utilize a chemical process in order to convert hydrogen rich fuel into electricity instead of burning gas. Unlike all-electric tech, fuel cell systems do not need to be recharged like batteries and can continue to produce electricity as long as there is a fuel source to further the process. Fuel cells are extremely clean, with the only byproduct of the chemical process being heat, water, and electricity. FCVs also operate nearly silently, as the fuel cells have no moving parts, and cars can be refueled in minutes at a pump much like gas-powered vehicles, (Toyota gives us a peek at this process here).


First and foremost, fuel cell systems are clean. As previously mentioned, the only byproducts of the chemical process used by fuel cell systems are heat, water, and electricity. There are no dirty emissions to pollute the planet and hydrogen is a non-toxic substance. In fact, switching from a gas-powered vehicle to a FCV would remove almost 5 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year! FCVs are also extremely efficient, operating at approximately 65% efficiency compared to a traditional gas-powered vehicle which operates between 33% and 35%. This means that a FCV can greater travel distances than a gas-powered vehicle loaded with the same amount of fuel.


Sounds great, right? Well, the technology isn’t perfect…yet. Not surprisingly, FCVs can be expensive to operate. While costs have decreased dramatically since the first FCV was introduced in 2006, it is still much more expensive to operate a FCV as opposed to a gas-powered or all-electric vehicle. One recent test conducted in Europe determined that driving a Tesla Model 3 will cost the owner around 2 cents per kilometer to operate, compared to over 17 cents per kilometer for the Toyota Mirai. Additionally, the lack of availability of fueling stations is a MAJOR problem for current FCV owners. As of the date of this writing, there are only around 35 FCV refueling locations in the United States, 34 of which are located in California. Compare this with about 20,000 all-electric charging stations nationwide and it becomes clear why EVs are crushing FCVs in sales.

So what does the future hold for Toyota and other manufacturers of FCVs? Will infrastructure eventually catch up and make FCVs a more viable option for consumers? Would you consider buying a FCV if you had easy access to a filling station? We would love to hear from our readers in the comments section below.

Source | Image: Robins Air Force Base