There’ s a cool sensation in the palm of the hand. It comes from holding the nozzle attached to the fuel dispenser at the new hydrogen filling station. We are in Wiener Neudorf, the site of one of Austria’s five hydrogen refueling stations. Even though it looks like an ordinary gas station at first glance, there are quite a few things here that make it different.
You get into the car and buckle up, bringing the vehicle to life. The seat moves forward automatically, the steering wheel comes closer, a beep, and the display shows the car is in a state of readiness. Now push the start button and off you go. Practically nothing is heard as you drive away, hardly surprising as the hydrogen car is also an electric vehicle. This means that it is extremely silent but extremely quick as well. Our test pilot today is Peter Zech and he’s passionate about driving.
If you challenge the 155 horsepower of the Toyota Mirai, you’ll hear a decent sound. The reason for this is the fuel cell, the heart of the vehicle, which produces the power for the electric motor. For this the cell requires hydrogen from the tank and oxygen from the air. If you want a great deal of performance, then the fuel cell also needs a lot of air; this is circulated via a ventilator and this is precisely what generates the sound. And the hydrogen comes in a completely familiar way – from a filling station.
“Unbelievably quiet and yet with loads of power – my first time driving a hydrogen car was a really positive experience. You fill it up in the usual way and just as quickly. And the best thing? The only thing to come out of the exhaust is water!”
Test driver of hydrogen vehicle
“Heading for the filling station, I don’t have to look for the hydrogen facility for long – you can’t miss it”, grins Peter Zech, who is driving a hydrogen car today for the first time. And filling up. The so-called high-level tank makes a particular impression due to its size. But there are other differences too: At a hydrogen filling station you deal in kilograms not liters. The Toyota Mirai has space for five kilos in the tank. But what makes it seem familiar is the method of filling up for the actual driver: “Open the cap of the fuel tank, shove in the nozzle and press start. And it takes around three minutes for a full tank. This means that it’s practically the same as gasoline or diesel in terms of time and effort”, says the test driver.
When the tank is full, you can hear a device getting to work in the neighboring building. The gaseous hydrogen from the high-level tank is being compressed for the next car to fill up. This is how a hydrogen car can be fuelled with pressure up to 700 Bar. If you think about the 2.2 Bar you have in a car tire, this is an extreme amount – but one that the tank can handle with ease. After all, it has to pass a ballistics test before being approved, so it’s one tough performer.
Those looking to find out more about how a hydrogen filling station works and why the nozzle cools down when filling up can get all the answers in this video.
Cleaner mileage: H2O not CO2
In the hydrogen car Peter Zech can coast along the roads with a clear conscience – the only mark he has left on the environment over the 100 kilometers he has driven today is around eight liters of pure water. Less pleasing, however, is the 80,000 euros or so that a hydrogen car like this currently costs. Which begs the question of why bother putting any effort into developing this technology. After all, it’s already much cheaper to get your hands on an electric cars with a battery.
“The special thing about hydrogen as a fuel is the high energy density. This means that you have very long driving ranges on the one hand and very short fuelling times on the other. With hydrogen we manage to preserve this feeling of freedom that every driver is used to”.
OMV Head of Future Mobility
Michael Sattler, OMV Head of Future Mobility, has the answer: “The motivation is the mileage and the future potential. A Tesla Model S gets 30 percent less mileage than the Toyota Mirai and has to spend more than an hour at the charging station to achieve even this. A battery-powered electric vehicle is a good solution for city driving, but for vehicles such as trucks or coaches, which often require long-distance travel, the hydrogen car could be a better solution in the future”.
However, the technology will only be able to truly break through when it gets cheaper. “At the moment they are very high-priced, but we expect them to come down to the level of a medium-range car”, says Michael Sattler. Experts assume that the price of the drive system will fall by 80% by 2025. By then the network of hydrogen filling stations will also be far more extensive: “Work is being done on establishing a comprehensive network of filling stations across Europe and is thereby right on track for people with hydrogen vehicles to be able to travel around freely”, adds Michael Sattler.
So, things are happening with hydrogen and it will become a significantly more attractive energy source as there technologies in the pipeline that will allow the production of hydrogen without any pollutants whatsoever. “I hope that my test drive today wasn’t just a pipe dream. As a driver, the technology definitely won me over – apart from the sensation of the cold nozzle”, concludes Peter Zech.