Jameel Motors
Jameel Motors
Electric Dreams?

Elemental to the future of green mobility?

Jameel MotorsDubai, UAE
November 28 , 2023
Jameel Motors17 minute read
Jameel motors

Hydrogen is a true hero element: abundant, clean, versatile.  As the global climate challenge gathers urgency, is hydrogen ready to stake its claim as the truly sustainable mobility solution?

To read global headlines, one may think battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) alone were driving our mobility future.  Peer beneath the hood, however, and you’ll quickly discover that sales of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are surging, too.  

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Global EV Outlook 2023 reveals that in 2022, the total number of FCEVs rocketed by 40%, hitting 72,000+ vehicles.[1]

If we’re going to be sharing the roads with them in ever increasing numbers, we stand to gain much by better understanding the technology.  So, how do we define an FCEV, and how do they reduce harm to the environment?

Hydrogen engines hit the ground running

FCEVs generate electricity from a hydrogen-powered fuel cell – an assembly of individual membrane electrodes that use hydrogen from tanks and oxygen to produce electricity.  

The vehicle’s power is determined by the size of the motor drawing power from the fuel cell and accompanying traction battery pack.  The high-voltage traction pack stores energy reclaimed from regenerative braking and provides additional power to the motor during energy-intensive actions such as acceleration.

The amount of energy stored on board – and thus the range of the vehicle – is defined by the fuel tank size rather than the battery capacity, in contrast to BEVs.

How clean is hydrogen fuel?  The clue lies in the color designation.

Traditional hydrogen is termed ‘grey hydrogen’ because it is derived from methane or coal by gasification or steam methane reforming (SMR) and hence carries a carbon footprint.  ‘Blue hydrogen’ comes from a similar source but with associated carbon capture technology of 85%-95% efficiency.  ‘Green hydrogen’ is produced through a process known as electrolysis powered by renewable electricity – and hence is regarded as the truly sustainable alternative.[2]

While the main source of hydrogen production remains, for now, natural gas, there is increasing investment in green hydrogen.  Due to the scaling-up of hydrogen production, and a fall in the price of the technology, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts a 30% drop in the cost of green hydrogen by 2030.[3]

Hydrogen gains worldwide momentum

Hydrogen fuel station at the National Assembly building Seoul South Korea. The country is one of the strongest proponents of hydrogen mobility.  

The Asian nation boasts more than half of the world’s passenger FCEVs and accounted for two-thirds of the 15,000 new units launched in 2022.  

The country’s policymakers regard hydrogen as a key catalyst for economic and employment growth and have secured hydrogen imports from the Middle East and Southeast Asia to turn this vision into reality.  

South Korea aims to become the “world’s no. 1 hydrogen industry” by 2030 thanks to a triple-pronged strategy encompassing hydrogen vehicles, power plants and cargo ships.[4]

The USA is solidifying its status as the world’s second leading hydrogen market.  FCEV numbers soared by more than a fifth in 2022, reaching a total of 15,000 cars and fuel cell buses.  China is in third place but catching up fast, its FCEV fleet expanding last year by a record 60%.

When it comes to heavier vehicles, the picture is subtly different.  China is home to 95% of the world’s hydrogen trucks and some 85% of all fuel cell buses.  It aims to hit the million-strong hydrogen vehicle milestone by mid-decade.[5]

The economics behind the hydrogen transition add up, with the global hydrogen vehicle market tipped to hit US$ 63 billion by the early 2030s.[6]  Hydrogen’s role in a net-zero transportation system will only strengthen as the underlying technology continues to evolve, and as more big-name developers jump on board.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that hydrogen demand will increase sixfold by 2050 on the path to net zero, from 94 to 530 million tons.[7]

New tech fuels growing confidence in hydrogen

A series of new hydrogen models have capitalized on the fuel’s growing popularity in recent years, raising the technological bar and making FCEVs a viable option for mass adoption.  Amid signs that the market sentiment for electric vehicles is softening, [LINK TO EV ARTICLE] could these be the models that propel FCEVs into the mainstream?

Toyota, an Abdul Latif Jameel partner for nearly 70 years, is a global trailblazer in hydrogen mobility.  

Toyota Chairman, Akio Toyoda unveils the new Toyota Crown range including hydrogen fuel-cell and plug-in hybrid powertrains, as well as multiple body styles, April 2023.

New in 2023 is the Toyota Crown sedan FCEV, sporting a dynamic combination of elements: Executive styling, with flowing contours and an elevated cabin.  The Crown stands alongside Toyota’s Mirai, its flagship FCEV.  Launched in 2014, the Mirai had by the end of 2022 notched up more than 20,000 sales.

Elsewhere, the SUV end of the hydrogen market is thriving among premier marques.  

Honda and GM’s joint endeavor on a hybrid hydrogen CR-V is due to launch in 2024, while Hyundai’s high-spec NEXO (with a 0-100 km/h of 9.2 seconds and a top speed of 179 km/h) has been busy shifting units since 2019.  

Renault, meanwhile, is preparing to showcase the true potential of hydrogen with an SUV crossover boasting 75% less emissions than ordinary battery-electric vehicles.  Its Renault Scenic E-Tech, due to enter production in 2024, carries a 15 kW hydrogen fuel cell that acts as a range extender, stretching driving distances to 800 km – considerably further than any mass market EV can manage.  

BMW is likewise banking on hydrogen with its iX5 concept vehicle, powered by Toyota fuel cells.  The first iX5 fleet hit the road earlier this year for trials and demonstrations.

The haulage industry is also beginning to recognize the potential of hydrogen.  Simple to maintain, fast to refuel and with enviable driving ranges, hydrogen vehicles appear custom-made for heavy-duty and long-haul operations.

Hydrogen vehicles are especially economic for cargo loads of 24,000+ pounds and journey distances of 180+ miles.  Indeed, they are the only zero-emission option for freight trips of over 600 miles.  The Hyundai Xcient can travel over 800 km before needing a recharge – equivalent to a Toyota Mirai.  The Xcient, which takes as little as eight minutes to refuel from empty, has been a runaway success in South Korea, New Zealand and several European markets including Switzerland, with a launch in the USA imminent.

At the smaller end of the freight market, Renault has collaborated with fuel cell maker Plug Power on the Hyvia, a hydrogen van with a 500 km range.  The vehicle also has a city bus version, demonstrating the validity of hydrogen as an option for public transport.

Hydrogen public transport

The public transport industry is sitting up and taking notice.  While only 4,000 FCEV buses were sold globally in 2022, that figure is expected to surpass 650,000 by 2037, with China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region setting the pace.[8]  South Korea is aiming to welcome 2,000 new hydrogen buses on to its roads by 2026, while the European Union (EU) has announced that all new urban buses be hydrogen or battery-powered by the end of the decade.  The edict is part of its overarching goal to achieve a 90% emissions reduction from all new trucks and buses by 2040.

Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV), part of Abdul Latif Jameel Energy, is playing a key role in raising the profile of hydrogen-fueled public transport solutions. 

In Alicante, the fourth most populated province in Spain, FRV’s innovation arm, FRV-X, is partnering with Vectalia to develop the first large-scale green hydrogen-powered bus transport system[9].  The project includes a solar-powered hydrolysis plant and hydrogen plant that will refuel up to 80 buses with a range of 400 km, cutting down on more than 75 tons of CO2 emissions in the first phase alone.

Hydrogen fuel cell taxis are likewise spreading across Europe, with Toyota in the driving seat.  

In Paris, Toyota is helping boost the city’s FCEV fleet from just over 100 to at least 10,000 by 2024.  In Germany, Toyota is supplying ride hail giant Uber with 200 FCEVs as part of a two-year trial.  While in Spain, FRV is teaming up with the Professional Taxi Federation of Madrid to help replace at least 1,000 traditional cabs with green hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2026[10].  The €100 million investment seeks to implement a ‘Taxi-as-a-Service’ (TaaS) business model in the cab sector, allowing drivers to use hydrogen vehicles at a competitive cost with a range and refueling time similar to traditional vehicles.  

So, what’s behind the upsurge in interest in hydrogen mobility?

There are six key reasons:

Six reasons why hydrogen mobility is surging

  1. Environment: Instead of exhaust fumes, hydrogen vehicles emit nothing more toxic than water vapor – significant, given that 21% of global emissions derive from transportation.[11]  Hydrogen is a more efficient fuel too, with FCEVs managing 60 miles per kilogram, compared to 25 miles per gallon of gasoline for combustion vehicles.[12]
  2. Greener than green: Hydrogen can be obtained from various clean energy sources including wind and solar power.  Surplus electricity can be stored during off-peak hours – a useful outlet for excess renewable energy during lulls in demand.
  3. Practicality and convenience: Unlike with BEVs, range anxiety is unlikely to cause any sleepless nights before a big trip. FCEVs can drive many hundreds of miles on a single tank, and refueling takes no more time than filling a conventional car.  
  4. De-risking energy: Hydrogen is waiting to fill the void left behind as natural gas prices fluctuate, and as traditional gas sources experience political uncertainty.
  5. Innovation: Researchers are working to further improve hydrogen fuel cells’ efficiency, durability, and cost-effectiveness.  The US Department of Energy (DOE) is targeting a fuel efficiency performance of 100 miles per 1 kg of hydrogen.[13]  
  6. Legislative support: There is growing public sector momentum behind hydrogen technology.  Around the world, governments are beginning to appreciate hydrogen’s potential in the fight against global heating.  In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act 2022 introduced a 10-year production tax credit (PTC) for facilities producing clean hydrogen, and extended tax credits to hydrogen fuel vehicles.  In China, producing hydrogen from renewable sources, and building a comprehensive hydrogen industry, are key components of the country’s  4th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).  The UK, which already has hydrogen-powered buses in London and beyond, has an official Hydrogen Strategy targeting 10 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.  The EU has committed to installing hydrogen refueling stations in all major cities and along core routes every 200 kilometers.[14]  And Japan has its own Strategic Roadmap, aiming for 800,000 fuel cell vehicles, 1,200 fuel cell buses and 10,000 fuel cell forklift trucks by the end of this decade.[15]

Stakeholders unite on hydrogen-fueled future

Ushering in a cleaner, greener hydrogen-driven future, however, will require a collaborative effort from all strata of society across the world.

The Hydrogen Council is one such initiative, an international body of automotive companies, energy companies and investors partnering in a shared vision of the hydrogen-powered economy, with FCEVs a key element.  As the council declares: “There is no climate solution without clean hydrogen, and there is no clean hydrogen without action.”  The council foresees a globe-spanning network of pipelines and long-distance shipping channels by 2050 for trading and transporting 60% of the world’s hydrogen supply.[16]

General Motors and Honda have teamed-up on a ‘next-generation’ hydrogen fuel cell system for cars and trucks.  Set to launch this year, the manufacturers hope to sell 60,000 units annually by 2030.  The partnership builds on their earlier collaboration on lithium battery technology for electric SUVs.

Not to be outdone, Toyota and BMW, having previously developed the iX5 Hydrogen based on BMW’s X5 SUV, have formed a similar alliance to produce new FCEVs, with the first model set to roll off production lines in 2025.

The number of hydrogen vehicles cruising our roads is set to increase sharply in the coming decades – that much is certain.  However, it will all be in vain without a corresponding effort to develop adequate support infrastructure.

How hydrogen turns challenges into opportunities

Infrastructure – or rather its absence – is one of the main obstacles to widespread hydrogen adoption.  There are currently only three public hydrogen car refueling stations in the UK[17] and only around 170 across the whole of Europe that can supply hydrogen at the recommended pressure for cars.  The picture is little better in the US, with 59 FCEV refueling stations for cars, almost all in California[18].  The UAE currently has one, at Masdar City[19]

Looking on the bright side, these numbers can only go up as hydrogen vehicles become more popular.  Hydrogen refueling points are actually cheaper to install than electric equivalents because they do not require grid upgrades.  The business case is certainly more appealing than FCEV charging stations, with a mid-sized hydrogen refueling station (capacity 500 kg / day) reportedly hitting break-even at just 55% utilization.[20]

An increasing number of FCEVs on our roads could create some similar problems to BEVs, however.  If, as many expect, proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers become the go-to technology for generating green hydrogen[21], we will swiftly encounter a shortage of the rare earth minerals upon which they depend.

Specifically, the anodes within PEMs rely on iridium.  Constituting just 0.00000003% of the Earth’s crust, iridium emerges only as a byproduct from other mining operations and production cannot economically be ratcheted up.  By 2030, iridium demand could outstrip iridium supply several times over.[22]

Emerging technologies might provide some salvation.  The E-TAC (electrochemical, thermally activated chemical) method of producing hydrogen uses a nickel rather than an iridium anode.  Nor does it require a membrane to separate hydrogen from oxygen, potentially bringing costs down to a competitive US$ 1 per kilogram.

Nickel might ultimately face its own supply crisis, however, since it is also in demand from the makers of EV batteries.  So, another solution waits in the wings: Solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOECs), which carry relatively low material demands of 150-200kg of nickel per MW at present.

SOECs come burdened with their own drawbacks, requiring a constant power source to run, and they remain at a tentative stage of testing.

Should PEMs ultimately come to dominate green hydrogen production, how might the industry solve the iridium riddle?  Efforts are global, but one team of researchers in Korea is attracting particular attention with its plan to drastically lower the iridium content of PEMs, without affecting durability.  They are swapping iridium for iron nitride electrodes, with an ultra-thin 25 nanometer coating of iridium proving sufficient to maintain performance and protection.  The technology consumes just 10% of the current amount of iridium needed for PEMs, boosting economic efficiency.[23]

Whenever roadblocks appear in the path to a hydrogen-powered future, innovators and investors repeatedly emerge with potential solutions. In the private sector, Abdul Latif Jameel is part of this journey, too.  As well as the two groundbreaking FRV and FRV-X hydrogen mobility projects in Spain, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors Saudi Arabia sponsors the ROOKIE Racing team owned by the Chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio Toyoda, which is fielding carbon-neutral cars in the Super Taikyu Series 2023.

In May 2023, Toyota’s liquid hydrogen-powered car demonstrated the fuel’s high-speed potential, becoming the first of its kind to complete the NAPAC Fuji SUPER TEC 24 Hours endurance race.  

The ROOKIE Racing team clocked up 358 laps of Oyama’s Fuji Speedway, equivalent to more than 1,600 km – proof to the industry and fans alike that environmental awareness and a ‘racing spirit’ can go hand and hand.

Hassan Jameel (L) Deputy President & Vice Chairman, Abdul Latif Jameel Saudi Arabia poses with Akio Toyoda, (R) Chairman, Toyota Motor Corporation as Abdul Latif Jameel Motors Saudi Arabia announced its 2023 sponsorship of the Rookie Racing Team.

Is hydrogen fit for the future?

Driving down the cost of hydrogen mobility will eventually make the technology available to everyone.  Hydrogen currently accounts for just a small share of the mobility market, with a total 72,000 FCEV vehicles on the road compared to the 14 million BEVs sold annually.[24]

However, experts acknowledge a number of trends over the coming decade which are set to transform the fortunes of hydrogen vehicles:

  • More energetic government support
  • An increasingly sophisticated refueling infrastructure
  • Further technological breakthroughs
  • More diversified supply chains

All will supercharge the switch toward cleaner mobility fuels.  By 2030, the estimated total cost of ownership (TCO) for a heavy-duty fuel cell truck journeying 500 km daily in Europe will fall to €1.02 per kilometer – achieving parity with BEVS and, crucially, coming in even cheaper than the €1.13 cost of a diesel-powered equivalent.[25]

As fossil fuel vehicles lose public sympathy and are gradually legislated into the history books, FCEVs could capture a sizable share of the mobility market.  Strap in and enjoy the ride.  

Jameel Motors
Jameel Motors
Eyes on Egypt

[1] https://www.iea.org/reports/global-ev-outlook-2023

[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/clean-energy-green-hydrogen/

[3] https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-hydrogen

[4] https://www.hydrogeninsight.com/policy/south-korea-to-boost-hydrogen-vehicles-power-plants-and-cargo-ships-as-it-aims-to-become-global-leader-in-h2/2-1-1351988

[5] https://www.euronews.com/next/2022/10/08/at-a-fork-in-the-road-do-hydrogen-cars-offer-a-better-future-than-electric

[6] https://www.polarismarketresearch.com/industry-analysis/hydrogen-fuel-cell-vehicle-market

[7] https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/deebef5d-0c34-4539-9d0c-10b13d840027/NetZeroby2050-ARoadmapfortheGlobalEnergySector_CORR.pdf

[8] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/over-650-thousand-hydrogen-fuel-cell-buses-to-be-sold-by-2037-says-information-trends-301760555.html

[9] https://frv.com/en/frv-y-vectalia-se-alian-para-un-transporte-urbano-sostenible-impulsado-por-hidrogeno-verde/

[10] https://frv.com/en/frv-contribuye-a-la-descarbonizacion-de-la-movilidad-publica-a-traves-del-hidrogeno-verde/

[11] https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

[12] https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/articles/hydrogens-role-transportation

[13] https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/articles/hydrogens-role-transportation

[14] https://www.hydrogeninsight.com/policy/eu-nations-agree-to-install-hydrogen-fuelling-stations-in-all-major-cities-and-every-200km-along-core-routes/2-1-1426859

[15] https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/email/rethink/2023/05/2023-05-10d.html

[16] https://www.hydrogeninsight.com/analysis/more-than-60-of-all-clean-hydrogen-will-be-transported-over-long-distances-by-2050-hydrogen-council/2-1-1329563

[17] https://www.ukh2mobility.co.uk/stations/

[18] https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels/hydrogen_stations.html

[19] https://www.adnoc.ae/en/News-and-Media/Press-Releases/2023/ADNOC-to-Launch-First-High-Speed-Hydrogen-Refueling-Station-in-the-Middle-East

[20] https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/operations/our-insights/global-infrastructure-initiative/voices/unlocking-hydrogens-power-for-long-haul-freight-transport

[21] www.energymonitor.ai/hydrogen/why-critical-minerals-wont-hamper-the-green-hydrogen-revolution/?cf-view

[22] www.energymonitor.ai/hydrogen/why-critical-minerals-wont-hamper-the-green-hydrogen-revolution/?cf-view

[23] https://interestingengineering.com/innovation/boosting-green-hydrogen-korean-researchers-reduce-rare-metals-in-production

[24] https://alj.com/en/perspective/hydrogen-back-in-the-hotspot/

[25] https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/operations/our-insights/global-infrastructure-initiative/voices/unlocking-hydrogens-power-for-long-haul-freight-transport