The Anonymous Widower

Are Hydrogen-Fuelled Vehicles A Waste Of Our Time And Energy?

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Engineering & Technology, which is the magazine of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. So it should be authoritative.

This is the concluding paragraph.

Cars account for 61 per cent of surface transport emissions, HGVs only 17 per cent, buses 3 per cent, and rail 2 per cent (CCC, December 2020) so for cost/benefit it cannot be worthwhile switching to hydrogen fuel cell buses and trains. Through any impartial lens of engineering science, hydrogen fuel cell cars do not appear to be a transport winner and the Government should revisit decisions it has made about related funding. But then there is political virtue signalling.

It is a must-read contribution to the debate, as to whether hydrogen or battery power, is best for surface transport.

I don’t believe there is a simple answer, because for some applications, battery electric power is not feasible because of reasons of power or range.

  • Would a battery-electric truck, be able to haul a forty-four tonne load between the Channel Tunnel and Scotland?
  • Would a battery-electric locomotive be able to haul a thousand tonne aggregate or stone train for anything but a few tens of miles?
  • Is it possible to design a a battery-electric double-deck bus, that can carry seventy passengers?

I believe there are applications, where battery-electric is not a feasible alternative to the current diesel traction.

It is worth noting, that truck-maker; Daimler is planning to have both battery and hydrogen heavy trucks in its product line.

Users will choose, what is the best zero-carbon transport for their needs.

The Black Cab Driver’s Answer

It is always said, that, if you want to know the answer to a difficult question, you ask the opinion of a black cab driver.

So as the new electric black taxis, are the most common electric vehicle, that the average Londoner uses, what do the guys up-front say about their expensive vehicles.

  • Regularly, cab drivers complain to me about the range and having to use the diesel engine to charge the battery or power the car.
  • Some suggest to me, that hydrogen might be a better way to make the vehicles zero-carbon.

I think they may have a point about hydrogen being a better method of powering a black taxi, when you look at the pattern of journeys and the battery size and charging limitations of the vehicle.

These limitations may reduce in the future, as the technology gets better, with higher density batteries and faster charging.

We could even see a design and sales war between battery and hydrogen black cabs.

It always pays to follow the money!

February 17, 2021 - Posted by | Energy, Hydrogen, Transport/Travel | , , , , , ,


  1. As in the days of stage coaches, the answer is a change of horses / batteries. If these can be made in standard sizes, then a car or truck can pull into a service station and change batteries. The batteries would probably be leased to avoid the “Hobson’s choice” problem.

    Comment by R. Mark Clayton | February 18, 2021 | Reply

  2. I think the point he is trying to make is even if you have to carry the energy (be it batteries, diesel or hydrogen) the power supply should be continuos (electrify as many lines as possible) and only in special cases use carried energy.
    This is where I think the UK goverment will fail when they target 2040 decarbonisation of the railways, without electifying the lines will never be on time. There should be a priority list ready, teams out now to survey lines and a rolling fast (automated) assembly line-type constuction process doing 100s of miles of tracks.

    Comment by Daniel Altmann | February 18, 2021 | Reply

    • UK Government isn’t decarbonising the railways by 2040 but replacing diesel ONLY trains, diesel HYBRID and BI-MODAL trains by 2050. I was also fooled. I don’t think this is impressive, British Rail replaced far more steam engines in 1955-68 which weren’t converted to electric, hybrid, bi-modal, hydrogen and battery power than the 3,700 diesel only trains in 2021-50 which can be converted. Authors writing for cleantechnica and electrek websites have also been fooled by the 2030 UK ban of petrol and diesel cars, again petrol and diesel ONLY cars, HYBRIDS in 2035.

      Comment by jason leahy | February 18, 2021 | Reply

      • I have a feeling that these dates, are ones that they know can be kept , whatever may happen.

        With the news today that Ford will only sell electric cars in Europe after 2030, who’s to know what difference that will make?

        I also believe that with Hitachi’s bi-mode trains the Hyperdrive Innovation battery packs could be direct plug-compatible replacements for the diesel engines, which could enable the trains to be converted from bi-mode to battery electric with a simple module swap and a software update.

        Comment by AnonW | February 18, 2021

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