Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). What the what is that? Aren’t those all electric vehicles? Why does this matter?


Firstly, no, FCEVs are not your typical electric vehicle. Where electric vehicles require plugs to charge up, FCEVs run off of gaseous hydrogen that you fuel like traditional motor vehicles. When hydrogen stored in the vehicle reacts with oxygen being pulled in from the outside air, electricity is created to mobilize the powertrain of the vehicle, running like an electric vehicle that creates its own electricity.


Like EVs, this results in no harmful tailpipe emissions. Actually, what is emitted from an FCEV engine is water vapor, which, as shown in this video, can be recaptured and utilized as a water resource if the proper equipment is attached to the tailpipe.


Critics worry that hydrogen fuel cells are an unnecessarily complex and more expensive way to offer the same service that electric vehicles provide. Plus, like other electric vehicles, when looking at the upstream processes for hydrogen creation, emissions are increased due to energy-intensive processes or from where the hydrogen is taken from (such as natural gas). But it is important to recognize the important storage (quick to fuel), distance, and weight benefits that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles offer over their plug-in electric counterparts.


Their most relevant benefit to the average consumer is their capability to drive long distances. The average FCEV is targeted to travel around 300 miles per fueling, which is on par with traditional motor vehicles that have a 20-gallon tank. This eliminates the “range anxiety” that the market has been feeling towards regular electric vehicles. Although some battery electric vehicles, such as GM’s Chevy Bolt, have been hitting astoundingly longer ranges of over 200 miles, batteries and their future are still unclear as to how much more storage and range we can pull out of them.


FCEVs are also a good option for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. They have successfully penetrated the forklift market and are in the developmental and early release stages for commercial vehicles such as transit buses, shuttle buses, delivery vehicles and refuse trucks. There are already transit buses in use in California, one bus exceeding 20,000 hours of service in 2015.


FCEVs are a very nascent market in Colorado, though. Barriers such as there only being one hydrogen fueling station (located at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory) campus and the non-existent vehicle purchase options in Colorado have really highlighted the “chicken vs. the egg” dilemma. Though this industry is just starting to gear up, there are many stakeholders, such as the Colorado Hydrogen Coalition, working on solving supply and market barrier issues for these vehicles.


More questions? Check out the FCEV page on our site!

Analysis / Fuel Comparison, Electric Vehicle Technology