Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari made new headlines after he arrived at the parliament in a car powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The car he used is named Mirai. It is India’s first green hydrogen-powered car manufactured by Japan’s Toyota.
The video of Gadkari’s arrival went viral on social media platforms, showing the minister in the front seat next to the driver’s. The white car had a green number plate.
The green plate denotes environment-friendly cars similar to electric vehicles. To make the point, all autorickshaws run on CNG are seen painted in green, for example, as are CNG-fuelled buses. Yellow number plates with the inscription in black denote commercial vehicles.
As Gadkari created a buzz on the internet, Google and other search engines were flooded with the keywords “hydrogen car”.
A hydrogen vehicle is a type of alternative fuel vehicle that uses hydrogen fuel for motive power. Hydrogen vehicles include hydrogen-fuelled space rockets, as well as automobiles and other transportation vehicles. Power is generated by converting the chemical energy of hydrogen to mechanical energy, either by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to power electric motors or, less commonly, by burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine.
As of 2021, there were two models of hydrogen cars publicly available in select markets: the Toyota Mirai (2014–), which is the world’s first mass-produced dedicated fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) and the Hyundai Nexo (2018–). The Honda Clarity was produced from 2016 to 2021.
Most companies that had been testing hydrogen cars have switched to battery-electric cars; Volkswagen has expressed that the technology has no future in the automotive space, mainly because a fuel cell electric vehicle consumes about three times more energy than a battery-electric car for each mile driven. As of December 2020, there were 31,225 passengers FCEVs powered with hydrogen on the world’s roads.
Till 2019, 98% of hydrogen was produced by steam methane reforming, which emits carbon monoxide. It can be produced by thermochemical or pyrolytic means using renewable feedstocks, but the processes are currently expensive. Various technologies are being developed that aim to deliver costs low enough, and quantities great enough, to compete with hydrogen production using natural gas.
The benefits of hydrogen technology are fast refuelling time (comparable to gasoline) and long driving range on a single tank. The drawbacks of hydrogen use are high carbon emissions when hydrogen is produced from natural gas, capital cost burden, low energy content per unit volume at ambient conditions, production and compression of hydrogen, the investment required to build filling stations around the world to dispense hydrogen, transportation of hydrogen to filling stations, and lack of ability to produce or dispense hydrogen at home.
Mirai, in which Gadkari took a ride, offers a mileage of up to 650 km on a single charge. The refuelling happens in five minutes.
Hydrogen car project
The hydrogen car project was started by Japan’s Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. along with International Center for Automotive Technology (ICAT). Under this project, the duo is studying and evaluating the performance of Toyota Mirai on Indian roads and climatic conditions.
Pros and Cons of Hydrogen cars
- Less Tax
- Environment friendly
- Provides more range than electric cars
- Safety issues as hydrogen is highly flammable
- More costly than petrol and diesel
- Few refuelling stations