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Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Vs Battery Electric Vehicles Experts tell us why FCEVs are not very common in India, but why we need them to coexist with BEVs

By S Shanthi

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Last year, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari drove Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen-powered car, to the Parliament sending a message that India needs to soon transition to green energy.

Toyota Mirai is one of the few Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) in the world which only runs on hydrogen-generated electricity and was launched as part of the Toyota Kirloskar Motor pilot project. The company said that the car is capable of providing a range of up to 650 km on a single charge, with a refueling time of five minutes. The increasing global awareness about the negative environmental impact of ICE has been a driver for the launch of these FCEVs, just like the boost battery electric vehicles (BEVs, commonly called EVs) have gotten in the last few years.

However, unlike EVs, there have not been many vehicle launches in the hydrogen fuel cell segment. Hyundai's Nexo is probably the only other well-known car that runs on hydrogen-generated electricity in India.

Why has this technology not picked up the pace the way BEVs have? But, before we get there, let's understand the difference between both technologies.

Both BEVs and FCEVs run on electric energy stored in batteries. However, the difference lies in the source from where the batteries derive power. While BEVs' lithium-ion rechargeable batteries derive power from the grid, FCEVs' batteries derive power from fuel cells, meaning, the chemical energy of hydrogen gets converted to electrical energy with water as the exhaust.

Why FCEVs are lagging behind

FCEVs are still not very common in India, and there are several reasons why this technology is yet to take off.

One of the primary reasons is the lack of infrastructure to support FCEVs. "There are currently very few hydrogen refueling stations in India, which makes it difficult for people to use these vehicles on a regular basis. Without a robust network of refueling stations, it is difficult to convince consumers to adopt this new technology," said Sameer Aggarwal, founder & CEO, Revfin, an EV finance company.

However, infrastructure and adoption are two sides of the same coin. The more the adoption, the better will be the infrastructure, and the better the infrastructure the more the adoption. Also, as mentioned above, there are hardly any manufacturers going in for this, which has resulted in limited availability and thereby limited choice for the consumers. Due to this, it has become all the more difficult for makers involved in the segment to build momentum around the technology.

So, the key thing to note here is the slow adoption among consumers. And the reason behind this is the high cost of these vehicles. "Compared to traditional gasoline or diesel vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are still relatively expensive to produce. This is due in part to the high cost of the fuel cell technology itself, as well as the cost of the materials used to build these vehicles," said Aggarwal.

Additionally, the storage and transportation of hydrogen is more complex than the storage of fossil fuels, which further increases the cost. "As India shifts to clean mobility, BEVs have an edge over HFCs, particularly in 4-wheeler segments, in terms of cost. The Indian automobile market is very cost-sensitive and HFC vehicles are relatively expensive when compared to conventional vehicles or for that matter electric vehicles, making them less accessible to the average consumer," said Pawan Mulukutla, Director, Integrated Transport, Electric Mobility & Hydrogen, World Resources Institute India.

In addition to this, there is also a lack of public awareness and education about FCEVs in India. Many people are still not familiar with this technology and may not understand the benefits of switching to a hydrogen-powered vehicle from their petrol or diesel vehicle/ICE engine vehicles. "Without a concerted effort to educate the public and promote the use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, it may be difficult to convince consumers to adopt this new technology," said Aggarwal.

The lack of incentives is another roadblock. While the Indian government has expressed interest in promoting hydrogen fuel cell technology, there has been limited funding and policy support to date, say experts. "For example, the FAME scheme does not offer incentives for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV), despite the scheme's goal of gradually shifting to alternative fuels to reduce dependence on conventional fossil fuels in the automobile industry. Additionally, there are no tax benefits with FCEVs unlike their electric vehicle counterparts making it difficult for HFC vehicles to gain a foothold in the market," said Mulukutla.





Suited for long-distance travel

Suited for shorter commutes

Apt for commercial trucks, buses

Apt for fleet and personal use

More suited for 4Ws

More suited for 2Ws, 3Ws


Not inflammable if used right

Refueling in minutes

Refueling can take 6-8 hours

Do not rely on rare earth metals

Rely on rare earth metals

Do we need FCEV technology?

FCEVs have longer driving ranges and faster refueling times than most BEVs, making them better suited for long-distance travel and applications like commercial trucks and buses. For example, Mirai Toyota's HFC car has a 600 km range and can hold about 5.6 kg of hydrogen. BEVs, on the other hand, have lower operating costs and are better suited for shorter commutes and urban driving and are more suited for 2 and 3-wheelers. This is one of the reasons experts have been pushing for FCEVs as well. And, they can also be a great addition to achieving green mobility goals. The more the better, say clean energy enthusiasts.

In addition to that, the production of hydrogen can be sourced from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power as well. Further, there are some more advantages to hydrogen fuel cell technology besides longer ranger. This includes faster refueling and reduced dependence on rare earth metals.

"While a BEV takes about 6-8 hours to charge, an FCEV may be refilled in only 5 minutes. Also, BEVs rely on rare earth metals like lithium and cobalt, which are expensive and difficult to obtain sustainably. Too much reliance on these minerals can disrupt the supply chain making the need to diversify mineral usage and explore alternatives critical," said Mulukutla.

The ideal thing to do is to ensure FCEVs and BEVs coexist. "EVs have gained significant momentum in India, with the government setting ambitious targets for electrification of the vehicle fleet. Hydrogen fuel cell technology may turn out to be an attractive and viable option for high-capacity and long-distance cargo fleet/vehicles.

"Both FCEVs and BEVs vehicles have a role to play in the transition towards a more sustainable transportation system in India. The choice between the two technologies will depend on the specific needs and priorities of individual drivers and fleet operators," said Mulukutla.

The Indian government too has included both BEVs and FCVs in its target to achieve 30% electric mobility by 2030.

S Shanthi

Former Senior Assistant Editor

Shanthi specializes in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. 


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