Is Hydrogen Cars Better Than Electric?

Both hydrogen and electric vehicles are being explored as alternatives to traditional gas-powered cars. Hydrogen cars convert hydrogen into electricity to power an electric motor. The only byproduct from this reaction is water vapor, so hydrogen cars emit no greenhouse gases or other air pollutants. Electric vehicles (EVs) run on electricity stored in batteries, which power the electric motors. EVs produce no direct emissions but generating the electricity to charge the batteries does create some emissions depending on the energy source. This article provides an overview of how hydrogen cars and EVs work, compares their environmental impact, cost, performance and other factors to evaluate the pros and cons of each technology.

How Hydrogen Cars Work

Hydrogen cars run on electricity produced from hydrogen fuel, instead of storing electricity in batteries like most electric vehicles. They use a fuel cell to convert hydrogen into electricity to power the electric motor (AFDC).

The fuel cell contains an anode, cathode, and electrolyte membrane. Hydrogen is fed into the anode, while oxygen is fed into the cathode. At the anode site, a catalyst causes the hydrogen atom to split into a proton and electron. The proton passes through the electrolyte membrane, while the electron creates a separate current that powers the electric motor. At the cathode, the electrons reunite with the hydrogen and oxygen to produce water and heat as byproducts (Drive Clean).

Compressed hydrogen is stored in high-pressure tanks, usually at 5000 to 10,000 psi. The tank feeds hydrogen into the fuel cell stack to produce electricity on demand (AFDC). Fuel cell stacks combine many individual fuel cells together to generate more power.

How Electric Cars Work

Electric cars work by using batteries to power electric motors that turn the wheels (How Do All-Electric Cars Work? – Alternative Fuels Data Center, Instead of gasoline, electric cars run on electricity stored in rechargeable battery packs. The batteries send power to the vehicle’s electric motor, which turns the wheels. The power and torque generated by the motor provide propulsion similar to a conventional car.

Electric cars have a fairly simple drivetrain with far fewer moving parts compared to gas-powered vehicles. They do not have complex transmissions, clutches, or drive belts. The battery pack provides DC (direct current) power to the inverter, which converts the DC to AC (alternating current). The AC electricity then runs through the traction motor to turn the wheels (EV 101: How Do Electric Cars Work?,

The motor draws power from the battery to accelerate the car. Regenerative braking helps recharge the battery by capturing energy normally lost through braking. Drivers can also plug in and recharge at public charging stations or home outlets.

Environmental Impact

When it comes to emissions and pollution from manufacturing and operations, there are pros and cons to both hydrogen and electric vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles themselves produce no tailpipe emissions—just water vapor. However, most hydrogen today is produced from natural gas in a process that releases carbon dioxide. The production and transportation of hydrogen also requires energy.

Electric vehicles also have no tailpipe emissions, and can potentially produce lower emissions depending on how their electricity is produced. However, large-scale battery production requires mining of materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel that can negatively impact the environment. Batteries also require complex manufacturing processes that consume energy.

Overall, researchers are still studying the full lifecycle emissions of both technologies to determine the cleaner option. This likely depends on how the electricity and hydrogen are produced. As more renewable energy comes online, both options can potentially reduce their environmental footprints. More data is needed to conclusively compare the emissions from start to finish.

Refueling and Recharging

One of the major differences between hydrogen and electric vehicles is the refueling and recharging time. Hydrogen vehicles can be refueled relatively quickly, similar to gasoline cars. Most hydrogen refueling stations can fill up a tank in 3-5 minutes (source). This provides a fast, convenient refueling experience comparable to traditional gas stations.

In contrast, recharging times for electric vehicles are much longer. Most home charging stations take 8-12 hours for a full charge. Public fast charging stations can charge up to 80% in 30-60 minutes, but even that is significantly slower than a hydrogen fill-up (source). This can make long distance travel in electric vehicles more challenging.

hydrogen vehicles can refuel in 3-5 minutes at hydrogen stations, much faster than the 8+ hours needed to recharge an electric vehicle battery.

However, a key drawback for hydrogen vehicles currently is the lack of refueling infrastructure. While there are over 40,000 electric charging stations in the US, there are only about 50 hydrogen stations nationwide. The limited refueling network makes hydrogen vehicles impractical for many drivers.


Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles currently have a higher purchase price compared to battery electric vehicles. According to MIT Climate Portal, a hydrogen fuel cell car costs around $60,000 while a comparable electric vehicle costs $45,000 to $80,000. However, the cost of hydrogen cars is expected to come down as the technology matures and production scales up.

In terms of fuel costs, hydrogen is cheaper than gasoline but more expensive than electricity needed to charge an EV battery. Filling up a hydrogen fuel cell car costs around $50, whereas the electricity needed to fully charge an electric car battery costs between $10 to $20 depending on electricity rates. The cost per mile for hydrogen fuel is around 7 to 8 cents, while the cost per mile for electricity ranges from 2 to 4 cents.


When it comes to performance, both hydrogen and electric cars have their strengths and weaknesses. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can match or exceed the performance of gasoline-powered cars in terms of power and acceleration thanks to the instant torque provided by their electric motors. The Toyota Mirai, for example, produces 182 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, allowing it to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 9 seconds[1]. Electric cars like the Tesla Model S offer blistering acceleration, going 0-60 mph in as little as 2.3 seconds in the case of the Plaid model[2]. However, most mainstream EVs tend to be slower off the line than hydrogen cars.

The maximum driving range is still a distinct advantage for hydrogen vehicles. While the top electric cars today can achieve 300-400 miles on a charge, hydrogen fuel cell cars like the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo are rated for up to 380 miles and 380-480 miles respectively per fill up[1][3]. The quick refueling process, taking around 5 minutes, is another benefit allowing hydrogen vehicles to travel long distances without extended charging times.

Overall, hydrogen fuel cell cars can compete with electric vehicles in terms of power and acceleration while exceeding their range capabilities. However, the performance gap is narrowing as battery technology continues to improve.





Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo have additional safety systems compared to conventional cars, but are just as safe overall according to Toyota (Toyota, n.d.). Fuel cell stacks are very durable and protected in a rigid frame, hydrogen tanks have passed crash and gunfire tests without rupturing, and multiple shut-off valves isolate the fuel system in a crash (Toyota Europe, 2015).

Electric vehicles also go through rigorous safety testing, with battery packs encased in protective housings. Both hydrogen and electric vehicles must meet the same safety standards as conventional gasoline cars before being approved for sale (Lee, 2019). While the high-voltage systems in electric and hydrogen cars require special emergency responder training, overall crash statistics show they are just as safe as gasoline vehicles.


When it comes to availability, electric vehicles have a significant advantage over hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. There are dozens of models of electric vehicles available to purchase today from nearly every major automaker, with many more set to release in the next few years. According to Car and Driver, there are over 100 electric vehicle models available for sale globally as of 2022.

In contrast, there are currently only a handful of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles available for purchase. The main models include the Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Nexo, and Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. These vehicles have very limited availability, with sales largely concentrated in California where hydrogen fueling stations are more common. Most major automakers have yet to release a retail hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Overall, consumers have far more choice when it comes to purchasing an electric vehicle compared to a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

This trend is expected to continue in the near future. BloombergNEF projects there will be 500 electric vehicle models available globally by 2022 compared to just 8 hydrogen fuel cell models. The infrastructure and production capacity for electric vehicles is scaling rapidly while hydrogen vehicles are struggling to gain traction. Until more automakers commit to mass producing hydrogen cars and fueling stations become widespread, electric vehicles will maintain a substantial lead in availability and choice.


In summary, hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles both have benefits and drawbacks that make each technology better suited for certain applications. Key differences between the two include:

  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can refuel faster than electric vehicles can recharge, but electric charging stations are currently more widely available than hydrogen fueling stations.
  • Electric vehicles have no emissions, while hydrogen fuel cell vehicles emit some water vapor. However, both are much cleaner than gasoline vehicles.
  • Electric vehicles currently have a lower purchase price but a higher fuel cost compared to hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles also have a higher maintenance cost.
  • Electric vehicles generally have shorter driving ranges while fuel cell vehicles can achieve longer ranges between fill-ups. But ranges are improving for both technologies.
  • While hydrogen fuel cell vehicles provide some advantages for long distance driving given their faster refueling and range, battery electrics are generally better suited for urban areas and daily commuting given the wider availability of home and public charging infrastructure.

Overall, for individual consumers living in urban areas who require a daily driver, battery electric vehicles may be the better choice today given lower upfront costs and readily available home charging. However, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles offer benefits for drivers who need to travel long distances and refuel quickly. As technology continues improving and infrastructure expands for both options, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and battery electrics will both play important roles in sustainable transportation.

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