Fuel cell electric vehicles have many hidden costs


This blog post was written by Sharlene Jouan, a freelance journalist, and Kathryn Griffin, a junior at Fairfield University

Before my boss, Chris Hansen, and I started the Hydrogen Society last fall, I have rarely imagined that I would someday be writing a story about the hydrogen fuel cell electric car.

The first prototype of the new cars, the CHAdeMO (combination hydrogen and electric) Honda Insight, which will be available in the U.S. in December of this year, has not seen the light of day for testing. But that’s okay. Honda is considering to begin production of the car in 2016, according to its spokeswoman.

This is of great importance in terms of illustrating what is still to come for this fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) family. When hybrid and FCEV became more efficient in the car market years ago, it was not because they were that much better than fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Fuel cell vehicles were to catch up in the fuel economy department, and when the fuel cells did not, it was because most buyers were using the buses or sedans equipped with fuel cells. This has yet to take place.

So to me, the big question is why you would still buy a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) despite its economic and environmental performance limitations?

But let’s consider the reasons to consider an FCEV on the road.

The first reason to drive a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is environmental. As fuel cell electrics, fuel cell electric vehicles eliminate all gasoline or diesel emissions.

Afterpassing the environmental benefit, the next benefit to consideration is the fuel cost reduction. According to USA Today, when purchasing a fuel cell electric vehicle, the gas savings would be equivalent to gas savings for a car that gets 35 mpg — a savings that is likely in excess of your purchase price for an FCEV.

But with all of this has come a drawback: if you are in a city and it is easy to recharge your fuel cell electric vehicle, it can end up costing as much as if you drive a diesel vehicle that is heavily dependent on charging stations.

Next, an FCEV will give you the peace of mind you get from having your car plugged in for charging for the entire time that it is not operational. Such peace of mind means not paying for gas that is being wasted in a way. This convenience is so valued, that fuel cell electric vehicles have been paying for themselves in terms of lease payments within the first year of being purchased.

But there is a drawback. For one, while fuel cell electric vehicles can offer owners peace of mind because they have self-charging capability, they offer no additional benefits to be significant to consider purchasing the vehicle.

Then there is the cost. In terms of what is under the hood, fuel cell electric vehicles are more expensive because of the higher cost of fuel to produce a fuel cell electric vehicle, according to AFP.

And there is the fact that your fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) has the unenviable task of charging other people’s cars. Electricians, engineers, and technicians are required to install the fuel cell electric vehicles. And because of this, the technical team has to include experienced members of the population who can do their jobs without distraction. The perks of this have been the ability to charge your car while not even walking.

But the most important reason why you would need to consider buying an FCEV instead of an FCEV is the increased weight. So the first key word in supporting fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) is “weight.”

Consider driving a fuel cell electric vehicle, and remember the weight the person in the back will be carrying. In some examples, a kilogram or 2.21 pounds is equatable.

If we consider this figure, a kilogram is equivalent to about 71 pounds, assuming that the car has a seat of 3 feet and 11 inches, is 23 feet long, and is 3 feet wide. Afterwards, if you’re in a public parking lot with a paid parking spot with solar panel to provide electricity to charge your battery, well, you still are carrying about 72 pounds with you! And this is not counting the cost of the vehicle itself.

This is why, according to Eco Nation, nearly half of the largest oil producers in the world are in California and Texas. Although solar is steadily becoming a cheaper source of electricity, it still is not close to replacing fossil fuels such as oil.

The route forward is very clear.

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