Automobile companies BMW, Hyundai and Toyota put their hydrogen-powered vehicles on a test track alongside a battery-charged Tesla last week.
The activity at Germany’s Hannover Messe trade show let any 18-year-old with a valid drivers licence drive the models, fuelling the ongoing consumer battle between which electrical transport technology was better.
A hydrogen fuel cell device in a car turns hydrogen gas into usable energy through a chemical process called electrolysis.
A Christchurch electrical vehicle battery charger company, Evnex, says battery-charged electric cars would remain more popular.
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In January this year, there were 25,000 electric vehicles in New Zealand.
Evnex director Edward Harvey said creating hydrogen to be used in vehicles was not a completely environmentally friendly process.
“There is quite a lot of losses in the process of creating hydrogen through electrolysis and then converting it back to electricity in the vehicle.”
BMW head of hydrogen fuel cell project Anne Kleczka said creating hydrogen fuel was a “zero emission” process.
BMW had 10 working prototypes of its hydrogen fuel cell model that were used for testing, she said.
BMW’s plan was to introduce the technology to larger vehicles like its X5 and X7 models.
Battery-charging technology remained the best option for smaller vehicles, she said.
BMW’s hydrogen-powered model could be refilled at a hydrogen-filling station within three to five minutes, she said.
There are no hydrogen-refilling stations in New Zealand.
The benefits of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle were its speed to refill and its cheaper outright purchase cost, Callaghan Innovation’s Robert Holt said.
The cost of a hydrogen fuel cell car would reduce to between US$22,000 (NZ$31,700) and US$27,000 by 2030, the report suggested.
Holt said the fuel cell weighed less than an electric-charged battery, meaning it had a higher “range anxiety”, allowing motorists to travel up to 600 km/h in some cases.
Kleczka said New Zealand was an ideal location for hydrogen-fuelled vehicles because it already had plenty of solar, wind and geothermal energy.
Extra renewable power could be used to produce “green” hydrogen for car fuel, she said.
“If we have more renewable energy then we have more demand.”
Holt said New Zealand’s large amount of renewable energy meant battery-charged electric vehicles would be more efficient.
In 2016, the Government created the Electric Vehicles Programme (EVP) in an effort to see 64,000 electric cars on the roads by 2021.
In January this year, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) released a guide for public electric vehicle charging infrastructure
Transport Minister Simon Bridges said at the time that the NZTA recommended adopting faster refill technology.
Hydrogen fuel was not mentioned by Bridges or the NZTA.
Holt said there is currently no government support of hydrogen-powered vehicles.
In 2015, Tesla boss Elon Musk reportedly said using hydrogen to fuel cars was “incredibly dumb”.
He compared the debate between the two electric vehicle technologies to petrol and diesel.
There was a misconception that one electric vehicle technology would be the “victor”, Holt said.
– Madison Reidy travelled to Germany with assistance from Callaghan Innovation. The Fairfax Media business innovation series runs in partnership with Callaghan Innovation.