Hydrogen cars: Making zero emissions profitable

How can Britain build the low-carbon vehicles of the future; and will they be powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells?

Hugo Spowers, Founder and Company Architect of Riversimple Movement Ltd 


The energy efficiency of vehicles is highly dependent on weight, and batteries are heavy. So although battery electric cars have a role in short-range niches, they can never approach the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) for the range to which drivers have become accustomed.

FCEVs not only have superior range but, like a petrol car, they can be refuelled in 3-5 minutes.  Hydrogen infrastructure can be incorporated into existing forecourts and places no additional strain on the electricity grid, very good reasons for government policy to remain technology neutral when it comes to infrastructure support. Only by leveraging these advantages can we achieve the optimal environmental outcome.

Riversimple is pioneering lightweight carbon composite hydrogen fuel cell cars that go 300 miles on just 1.5kg of hydrogen – equivalent to 250mpg with petrol – and accelerates 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds. And the 2 seat Rasa does this on an 8.5kW fuel cell, only 11.5 brake horsepower.  But how do you make such technologies affordable?

The trick is to make efficiency profitable

If you sell cars, there is no incentive to improve performance other than regulation, a blunt instrument. Dieselgate exposed the intrinsic tension between environmental performance and delivering to consumers’ expectations.

Riversimple may be the only auto manufacturer that hopes never to sell a car, instead offering the car as part of a comprehensive service that includes maintenance, insurance, and importantly, fuel. “Efficiency is the key metric we’ve got to chase, and making it profitable is a gamechanger. If you provide a service, the longer the car lasts, the more reliable it is and the more efficient it is, the more profitable it is,” explains Hugo Spowers.

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  • Michael Turner

    As much as I want a uk manufacturer to succeed, i can’t see this car being a success. Hydrogen has to come from somewhere, that is either made using processes that generate lots of co2 or via electrolysis. Sadly the end to end power usage of electrolysis made hydrogen is horrifically inefficient, delivering less than 25% efficiency vs a battery electric car which is better than 70% efficient. You then also have to think about how a hydrogen filling station works. Unlike a petrol pump which simply moves a liquid from one tank to another, hydrogen pumps must do this under extreme pressure. This means vastly more complex infrastructure, plus they need time to repressure after a few refills. The idea that these can easily be deployed in to current forecourts is not at all practical, its a huge bit of machinery.

    For those that haven’t used a battery electric car, there is a way of thinking that needs to change. Our current approach of going somewhere to fill up is built around petrol. The idea that you need more than 300 miles of range is rooted in petrol thinking (incidentally notice at the start it says 600 miles when comparing hydrogen to battery cars, but the actual car they make is 300 miles!). A battery car charges when you aren’t there, so plug in and you’ll awake with a full battery. Going a long distance, then high speed chargers can add 100 miles range in 20 mins, and that’s today’s tech.

    While both areas are heavily researched, unless hydrogen has a fundamental breakthrough in the efficiency of generation, it creates more problems than it solves. I can drive 3 battery cars 100 miles on the electricty used to make enough hydrogen for 1 fcev car to go 100 miles.