Electric vehicles have been the topic of media focus over recent years, but is electricity actually the best alternative to petrol and diesel? After all, it must be produced from somewhere, but we’re far from being able to power our cars using 100% renewables.

According to the latest government figures available, 41% of our electricity is produced by wind power, solar power and other renewables. Which means electric cars are still largely dependent on energy produced by gas and nuclear power. Could water be a viable alternative to petrol and diesel in the form of green hydrogen? It would certainly help Britain achieve its goal of NetZero by 2050.

What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical in the universe. It’s found in water (it’s the H in H20), plants and animals. However, it is rarely found as a gas in nature, so the hydrogen gas which is used as fuel must be extracted. There are currently three types of hydrogen:

  • Grey hydrogen is the most used form of hydrogen. It’s produced from natural gas using steam-methane reformation, a method that produces carbon emissions that are released into the atmosphere.
  • Blue hydrogen is produced in the same way as grey hydrogen but captures and stores the carbon emissions. This makes it a lower carbon option, but still not ideal.
  • Green hydrogen is derived from water using solar or wind energies rather than relying on natural gases or fossil fuels. Last year’s COP26 featured a number of emission-reduction pledges. Its only direct emission is water which makes it a clean, energy-efficient renewable energy, and as such has the potential to play a powerful role in the net-zero emission economy.

Green hydrogen vehicles

Green hydrogen is already being used to fuel cars and vehicles with fueling stations installed in Germany, South Korea, and the United States. But green hydrogen has the potential to fuel much more than cars.

A recent Chilean start-up company, Highly Innovative Fuels (HIF) is scheduled to begin operation by the end of 2022. They plan to manufacture synthetic fuels that have the potential to fuel ships and aeroplanes as well as road vehicles. It will use only sustainable energy to harvest hydrogen from water and combine it with carbon dioxide that has been captured from the atmosphere to produce eFuels. These eFuels will be able to run standard engines without the need for modification.

To begin with, the quantities of eFuel produced at HIF will be small and therefore the fuel will be more expensive to buy than petrol, but in the future the hope is it will scale up production on a global basis and be able to produce a competitive alternative to fossil fuels.

The car manufacturer Porsche has invested US$75m in HIF and as soon as eFuel production begins, they intend to use it for their cars taking part in flagship motor-sports. Racing cars fuelled by water? Exciting times indeed!

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