Cars with hydrogen and fuel cells are “more climate-friendly” than battery-powered vehicles if their range is 250km or more.
That’s according to a study by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE who examined the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) generated during the manufacture, operation and disposal of battery and fuel cell vehicles with ranges of 300km and more.
In their study, funded by H2 Mobility Germany, the researchers created a detailed breakdown of how much material is needed for the production of batteries, fuel cells and hydrogen tanks, and what emissions are generated during its production and processing.
The result: the GHG footprint of the production and recycling of a fuel cell system including tank corresponds approximately to that of an electric drive with a 45-50 kWh storage capacity. For cars with larger batteries, more GHG are emitted than for the fuel-cell system in a comparable power class.
In operation, the source for the electricity and hydrogen is crucial. Following the assumptions of the study published by the Berlin think tank AGORA Verkehrswende, the Fraunhofer ISE assumed solar power (charging at home) as the optimum for the battery car.
In the best-case scenario for hydrogen, this is generated from 100% wind energy. However, emissions generated during charging were also compared for the German electricity mix, mixed-case hydrogen production (50% natural gas, 50% wind power), and the worst case: 100% natural gas.
Assuming a total [lifetime] mileage of 150,000km, the fuel cell vehicle prevails across the board. Even in the worst case (100% hydrogen from natural gas), the GHG footprint over its entire lifecycle will still be below that of comparable battery vehicles for the next 10 years, and also lower than that of diesel vehicles.
The study delivers proof of the complementarity of batteries and hydrogen. Vehicles with medium to small batteries (less than 50 kWh storage capacity) and ranges of up to 250km reduce emissions during operation.
From a climate-protection perspective, fuel cell vehicles have increasing advantages for longer ranges. Both for batteries and for hydrogen: the greener the energy source, the better their environmental score.