© Fraunhofer ISE
Author profile picture

Due to the new, additional tax planned by the German government, the issue of CO2 has become number one again in recent days. Heating and motoring in particular shall gradually become more expensive, so much so that in the long run fewer and fewer people will be able to afford a car at all. Or they will be forced to buy a new car which is not powered by fossil fuels. The real question is, how bad are alternative motoring concepts for the environment, how do they worsen the greenhouse effect, and are batteries really the solution?

In a study commissioned by H2 MOBILITY Deutschland, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE conducted a life cycle comparison of electric and fuel cell vehicles. Nonetheless, the whole world still seems to be focused primarily on relying on battery-powered vehicles. There are currently almost 9,200 charging stations for electric cars throughout Germany, and it feels as if new charging stations are appearing all over the place. Manufacturers are racing against each other to see who is able to supply the battery with the longest range and shortest charging time. Other motoring concepts seem to fall by the wayside.

© Fraunhofer ISE

The Fraunhofer Institute researchers now demonstrate that battery technology is far from the most ideal choice. According to the study, the better solution is the fuel cell, which (still) seems almost irrelevant in future mobility planning. The scientists have broken down in detail for the periods of 2020-2030 and 2030-2040 how much greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be generated in the manufacturing, operation, and disposal of battery and fuel cell vehicles with ranges of 300 kilometers and more. These calculations also took into account issues such as the amount of material required for the production of batteries, fuel cells and hydrogen tanks, along wth the emissions generated during production and processing. The researchers based their calculations on different scenarios for the generation of electricity or hydrogen. From best-case scenario to worst-case scenario. They also compared the figures with those of diesel-powered cars.

In the best-case scenario, the electricity for the battery vehicles comes from a photovoltaic system. In the worst case, it comes from the usual German electricity mix. In the best-case scenario for hydrogen, the hydrogen is generated with 100% wind energy. The worst-case scenario was based on production by reconstituting natural gas. In addition, the values were also compared with the emissions that were generated during charging with the mixed version (50% natural gas and 50% wind power).

The result should perhaps give car manufacturers ample food for thought, as in terms of greenhouse gas emissions at higher ranges. As vehicles with fuel cell technology performed better in the study than vehicles with batteries. Even in the worst-case scenario (100% H2 from natural gas), fuel cell vehicle GHG emissions over a distance of 150,000 kilometers are lower than those of comparable battery vehicles (90 kWh battery) that are charged with electricity from the German electricity mix.

© Fraunhofer ISE


“The study also shows that battery and fuel cell vehicles ideally complement each other. For long distances, fuel cell vehicles are more climate-friendly, and battery-powered vehicles are for short distances,” says Christopher Hebling, Head of Hydrogen Technologies at Fraunhofer ISE. In the period 2020-2030, the GHG-footprint for the production and recycling of a fuel cell system including tank, would correspond to that of an electric drive with a storage capacity of 45-50 kWh. For cars with larger batteries, more GHG would be emitted than for the fuel cell system in a comparable performance class.

“Beyond the study, we see the need for further research, such as the use of synthetic fuels which are produced from hydrogen from renewable energies and CO 2, as to their recyclable aspects or the effects on surface and water consumption,” explains project manager Dr. Ing. André Sternberg. As expected, diesel vehicles have higher GHG emissions.

The detailed results of the study financed by H2 MOBILITY Deutschland can be found HERE.

More articles about hydrogen HERE