Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Over 90% of all atoms in the universe are hydrogen atoms. It is an inexhaustible vector of energy on which we will rely more and more in the decades to come. This is a necessity to achieve climate neutrality. Green hydrogen in particular will gain in importance. Hydrogen vehicles will increase in number in the next 5 to 10 years. There are many interesting companies that are preparing for this.
What is Hydrogen?
Hydrogen is the first atomic element on the periodic table, with the chemical symbol H. A hydrogen atom consists of a proton (with a positive charge) and an electron (with a negative charge). Hydrogen can be found everywhere, not just on Earth but throughout the universe. An interesting property of hydrogen is that it is an efficient energy carrier, which is ideally suited for the storage and transport of energy in liquid, compressed gas or solid form. It can be transported by tank trucks and pipelines.
Since hydrogen generally needs to be separated from other compounds, it's not a primary energy source (which you can pump like petroleum, for example) because it needs to be produced. In fact, it needs a different source of energy and a chemical process called electrolysis. It involves a split or a fracture, so that electrolysis causes a substance to split into its various components by means of electricity. For example, during the electrolysis of water, water (H2O) is converted into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) by adding electricity. In short, electrolysis converts electrical energy into hydrogen, which can be stored and transported, to then be converted back into electrical energy.
Different types of Hydrogen
In general, a distinction can be made between different types of hydrogen:
- Gray hydrogen: production of hydrogen that uses fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and petroleum.
- Blue hydrogen: production of hydrogen which also uses fossil fuels, but whose CO2 emissions are captured and stored.
- Green hydrogen: production of hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, ocean and geothermal energy (currently 1% of global hydrogen production).
- Yellow hydrogen: production of hydrogen with other “clean energies” such as nuclear energy or biomass.
It is clear that in the future the focus must and will be on green hydrogen. This is the only means by which hydrogen can achieve the necessary economies of scale and thus become a truly mainstream commodity. Green hydrogen is also essential in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies.
Green Hydrogen Today
You can already read that only 1% of global hydrogen production is green hydrogen. In other words, the market is still in its early stages. Hydrogen fuel cells can already be used in various applications today, such as in buses, streetcars, taxis, delivery vans and heavy goods vehicles. The advantage of hydrogen vehicles is that refueling only takes a few minutes. It is significantly faster than recharging an electric vehicle. Experiments are also being carried out in trains and in the shipping industry with hydrogen fuel cells. In addition, these cells can also already be used for forklifts, logistics vehicles and drones, among others.
Hydrogen as the main challenger for electric vehicles?
While infrastructure and the high prices of hydrogen vehicles are still a problem today, they must be taken seriously as competitors to electric vehicles. Currently, only a handful of hydrogen-powered passenger cars are commercially available. These hydrogen cars are significantly more expensive than their electric variants. The price difference can be explained by the fact that hydrogen fuel cell cars are still produced in very small quantities today. If production were to be increased, the price of hydrogen cars could easily drop by 20,000 euros.
However, we see a lot of potential in hydrogen vehicles when it comes to heavier means of transport such as trains, trucks and ships. In practice, it is currently not easy to produce electric trucks, let alone a freight train or a ship. This is due to the fact that batteries for heavier means of transport have a large weight and take up a relatively large part of the charging capacity. One of the advantages of hydrogen is that it has a better energy / weight ratio. In other words, much more energy can be stored per kilogram of hydrogen. However, the situation is still different for passenger cars. After all, passenger transport can easily be electrified. One advantage of electric cars is that they have a higher efficiency than hydrogen cars because with hydrogen cars a lot of energy is lost during the conversion process.
Pros and Cons of Hydrogen vehicles versus Electric Vehicles
|Hydrogen has a better energy-to-weight ratio.||Limited infrastructure. Only 432 hydrogen stations worldwide. There are six hydrogen filling stations to cover the route betweenLake Constance and Lake Geneva.|
|Fueling / loading is faster.||Generating hydrogen takes a relatively large amount of energy and a lot of energy is lost during the process.|
|Larger scope||Hydrogen vehicles are significantly more expensive than electric vehicles.|
|Subsidies needed to make green hydrogen marketable.|
Green Hydrogen Players
In our opinion, there are 4 players stand out on the equitable landscape we would like to trace: Nel Hydrogen, McPhy, Plug Power and Powercell.
In the segment of electrolyzers and hydrogen filling stations, Nel Hydrogen is clearly the international leader in PEM electrolyzers for green hydrogen, while McPhy is a solid number two.
In the fuel cell segment, we want to highlight Plug Power and Powercell. Plug Power supplies hydrogen and fuel cell systems used to power electric motors, primarily for industrial mobility applications (including electric forklifts and electric industrial vehicles). It already has a well-established global customer base. The company offers its products to retailers, wholesalers and food distribution centers and manufacturing facilities around the world. Sweden's PowerCell, which split from Volvo in 2008, has made significant progress in recent years. For example, last year it struck a deal with Robert Bosch, granting Bosch the exclusive right to manufacture and sell the new and improved version of PowerCell S3 for cars, trucks and buses. This agreement allowed Bosch to become Nikola Motor's main supplier for hydrogen propulsion.
In fact, one has to be realistic, as the hydrogen market is still in its infancy, an investor in hydrogen stocks must face the inevitable turbulence. These types of businesses are, in fact, in the investment stage for the future, so they are not yet generating profits and cash flow. As a result, from time to time they will have to rely on the financial markets to finance their growth.