Transportation is one of the leading causes of global greenhouse gas emissions: contributing to over 14% of emissions in 2014. In the United States, 20% of all emissions were due to cars and trucks alone. Fortunately, new technology is being developed to minimize the impact of transportation on emissions, and its popularity is beginning to flourish rapidly in the public eye. In the name of “greenify-ing” transportation, most people will agree that electric vehicles are the ones up to the task. Electric energy is leading the way in the sustainable transportation sector, and has countless benefits as compared to current fossil-fuel systems. Further, the prevalence of electric vehicles in consumer society is increasing drastically every year, up 60% from 2016 to 2017. However, electric vehicles have a new competitor that has been making waves lately: vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel.
Electric vehicles are a green energy superhero: they reduce carbon emissions drastically, they are quiet, they are relatively easy to maintain and repair, and their range of distance is consistently increasing. Moreover, in the mass transit schema, they are ideal for cutting emissions and providing transportation for a large number of people. As of June 2017, over 2 million electric cars are circulating globally. Green energy leaders such as China and the Scandinavian countries, are heading the charge: more than 40% of electric vehicle sales were in China in 2016, with over 300,000 electric buses; and Norway achieved a 29% market share for electric vehicles that same year. However, despite their advantages and rising popularity, electric vehicles still face some challenges: the range is still lacking compared to their fossil fuel counterparts, they take a long time to recharge, and the battery must be re-charged using energy – ideally using renewable energy sources (ex: from solar and wind farms), but more often it uses coal.
Hydrogen vehicles are an up-and-coming alternative in the green transportation industry. The technology works by running hydrogen gas through the fuel cell, where it mixes with oxygen and generates an electric charge to power the vehicle. The technology has been found to be 25% more economical than diesel, and, with water vapour being the only waste product, it is essentially emission-free. Advantages of these vehicles reside in their long range – which is comparable to their fossil fuel combusting counterparts, the fact that they can be recharged quickly, they are quiet, and they do not require the intensive electrification infrastructure and charging points as in electric vehicles.
Effectively, passenger trains and trams using hydrogen fuel are increasing in prevalence worldwide. Since 2015, two main passenger trams have been built in China, and the nation has invested $72 million into further developing the industry. In Germany, hydrogen cell trams are expected to roll out in 2018, with the hope to replace the transportation industry’s remaining 40% diesel engines with hydrogen. The disadvantages of this technology are mostly related to its early developmental nature: the cost of these systems are almost double that of their mature electric counterparts, and experts will need time to develop the technology further and create economic viability.
In the long run, both electric and hydrogen fuel cells are excellent alternatives for helping transition out of fossil fuel use. Both forms of clean technology are turning heads across the globe and are eliciting positive change to cut global carbon emissions. The sleek design and relatively long range of Elon Musk’s Tesla vehicles have caused a spike in electrical vehicles on the global market, meanwhile nations are investing millions into the huge potential of hydrogen fuel cells, and there’s no reason why the two technologies should not operate hand-in-hand. It is possible that one day both will be dominating the market, or working in tandem for a clean, renewable energy overhaul.