Comparative Analysis of Battery Electric, Hydrogen Fuel Cell, and Hybrid Vehicles in a Future Sustainable Road Transport System

With the onset of global warming and climate change, road transport has become responsible for a large part of global anthropogenic emissions of CO2. Today’s road transport, for the most part dependent on oil-derived fuels, generates various pollutants that are harmful to human health. Offer et al. (2010) utilize previous studies conducted by the International Energy Agency, hereafter IEA, on alternative vehicle platforms. One platform called for a reduction of 80gCO2 km-1 to 30gCO2km-1 by the year 2030. The other platform suggested that a substantial shift to hydrogen-fuelled cars by the year 2050 could result in 50% less CO2 emissions. These platforms served as the bases for their comparative analysis of battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid vehicles in the years 2010 and 2030. Using data based in technology, cost prediction, and sensitivity analyses of the benefits and drawbacks of alternative fuel-based vehicles, Offer et al. reason that a “combination of electricity and hydrogen as a transport fuel could bring additional benefit to the end user in terms of both capital and running cost.” The authors label this model a hydrogen fuel cell plug-in hybrid vehicle, hereafter FCHEV. While the FCHEV carries a significantly low lifecycle cost in comparison to other alternative fuel-based vehicles, alternate data show the FCHEV’s insensitivity to electricity costs and sensitivity to hydrogen cost. The authors determine that with future technologies, various shortcomings, particularly involving mass-production and infrastructure, could be solved, presenting hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles as viable options for a future sustainable road transport system by the year 2030. Offer et al. conclude the best platform for future integration of fuel cells is the FCHEV, which, for policy-making purposes, “should be pursued and supported.”—Laura Silverberg

Offer, G.J., Howey, D., Contestabile, M., Clague, R., Brandon, N., 2010. Comparative analysis of battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid vehicles in a future sustainable road transport system. Energy Policy 38, 24-29.

 G.J. Offer et al. analyze two of the three “alternative powertrain technologies considered by IEA as viable options of providing a “sustainable road transport system with near-zero emissions” by the year 2030 (IEA, 2008). By taking these into consideration, the authors create their own form of technical, economic and infrastructural comparisons with the analysis of various barriers to the adoption of battery electric vehicles, hereafter BEVs and fuel cell electric vehicles, hereafter FCEVs. For the most part, these barriers are somewhat ‘complementary’, although electricity proves more accessible at this point in time, as electricity is already a widely used energy vector. That is not to say, however, that hydrogen is not a practical option for the future. The authors discuss that overcoming technical and economic barriers are important for large scale, mass-produced adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles; however, their study focuses more on the potential economic advantages of the IEA vehicle platforms. Since the BEV and the FCEV models both rely on an electric powertrain and are otherwise identical, the authors claim that “the two technologies should be considered together rather than separately, in a hybrid solution.”

          Various conclusions can be drawn from the authors’ analysis of alternative-fuel vehicles. In terms of capital costs in the year 2010, FCEVs, BEVs and FCHEVs are all far more expensive than the conventional internal combustion engine, hereafter ICE, powertrain. The ICE powertrain will still be cheaper in 2030, although when lifetime fuel costs are factored in, the overall model proves less efficient. According to the authors’ “optimistic” and “pessimistic” hypotheses for 2030, capital costs could drop significantly, the FCHEV model presenting the lowest capital cost. The authors also discuss that accurate predictions of the future costs of alternative powertrain sources are not possible at this time. Additionally, any mark-up added at the point of sale were not included in the study. This permits the technologies to be evaluated on an equal playing field, representing economic standings during the year 2010. With more development of powertrain technologies and the revising of cost sensitivity trends, these numbers will be reevaluated and relative to the year at hand. Regarding lifecycle costs over 100,000 miles, the authors concluded that FCHEVs appeared to be cheaper than BEVs and exhibited a wider sensitivity to capital and running costs. ICEs and FCEVs lifecycle costs were significantly higher than FCHEVs and BEVs, around 1.75 times greater. The authors conducted a separate study on battery size that considered BEV lifecycle cost sensitivity to battery size. They found that BEV economics are cheapest if a battery size can be reduced to accommodate a range of only 50 miles, predominantly targeting city-based drivers. The authors recommend a battery electric vehicle with fuel cell range extender as the best platform for integration of fuel cells for future road transport. As the most viable option, this model can compete for space in an electrified transport network and allow consumers to choose between recharging or refuelling their vehicle. 

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