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It’s time for the big showdown between the two rivals hoping to knock internal combustion engines off the top spot in the world of automotive power. (cue drumrolls, flashing lights blaring heavy metal music and a hyperventilating commentator).  In the green corner, we have… Electricity!  In the other green corner, we have… Hydrogen!  Which of these two mighty rivals will win the title for best engine type and come out champion and win the Green Energy title?

OK, settle down.  Deep breath and time for me to stop channelling the pro wrestling I watched the other night when I was in need of a good laugh.  Right, that’s better.  Now to continue with a discussion of whether hydrogen-powered vehicles or EVs are the best.

Of course, one has to look at all aspects of motoring to decide what’s best. What’s more, when it comes to individual decisions as to what car you want to buy and drive, your personal priorities will come into play. So, without further ado, let the contest begin…

Environmental impact and emissions: On the road from the end-user perspective, it’s a draw.  Running EVs and hydrogen doesn’t pump out pollution or greenhouse gases.  However, the way that the electricity is generated or the hydrogen gas is produced may have to be taken into account. If the widespread uptake of EVs means that power companies have to fire up otherwise disused old coal- or gas-fired generators, EVs might not be all that green.  If the power comes from hydro, wind or solar, then it’s all good.  Similarly with hydrogen: if the process of getting said hydrogen into a fuel form can be done without chewing through non-renewables or pumping out nasties, then it’s all good – and we’re working on that, as we’ve discussed in an earlier post.

Maintenance: Assuming that you can find a mechanic that can deal with EVs (there are more of these knocking around these days) and/or hydrogen vehicles (we need a nice little abbreviation for these: what about HVs?), this is another draw.  Both types of vehicle have fewer moving parts than what’s needed in an ICE (internal combustion engine) – both involve electric motors that create rotational motion directly rather than relying on a controlled explosion to push a piston that turns into rotational motion.  Fewer moving parts means less friction, which means less wear and tear.  However, to be fair, EVs and HVs haven’t been around quite as long, so we will have to wait a bit and see what happens as they get older.

Accessibility: OK, here EVs win hands down.  Charging points can be found in all sorts of places and every time I go to my favourite holiday spot, I come across a new charger where there wasn’t one before.  You can also get charging points for your home so you can charge an EV overnight.  Although our very own CSIRO are working on ways to make transportation and storage of hydrogen easier, we still don’t have very many hydrogen bowsers out there… or at least not yet.

Cost: At the moment, electricity is cheaper to get than hydrogen fuel, so this is another win for EVs.

Time: As a lot of you have already discovered, it can take quite a while to charge the battery of an EV up to full, kind of like it does with your phone or laptop. Even the very fastest superchargers take half an hour to get a battery to 100%. However, hydrogen pumps as easily as petrol or diesel, and you all know how quick that is, so HVs win here.

Range: Another very clear win for hydrogen. In 2017, the Toyota Mirai clocked up 502 km, while a test version of a Tesla picked up somewhere between 397 and 506 km.  In practice and with everyday people driving, the range of HVs tends to be a lot longer than that of EVs.


The Telsa Roadster (due for release in 2020) boasts some specs that make all the other supercars, muscle cars and hypercars look like Granny’s little runabout: 0–62 mph (that’s about the same as 100 km/h)) in 1.9 seconds, a top speed of 250 MILES per hour and a reputed 10,000 Nm of torque according to Elon Musk.  Yes, I’m counting those zeroes as well and wondering if that’s for real.  A nice nerd has explained how this figure might be a wee bit misleading, as Tesla’s talking about wheel torque, not engine torque:

On the HV front, the Pininfarina H2 Speed racing machine claims to do the 0–62 mph sprint in 3.4 seconds and has a top speed of 300 km/h and a maximum power output (from four engines combined) of 480 kW; torque figures are hard to come by.

Actually, I would quite like to see a real head-to-head race between the Pininfarina H2 Speed and the Tesla Roadster, and not just because it would be cool to see the Tesla’s acceleration in action.  One of the things that puts me off traditional motor racing a bit is the engine noise and the smell of the fumes, but when electricity and hydrogen compete, these would be totally gone and that’s the whole point of EVs and HVs.  We can probably say now that the Tesla would win the sprint, but over a longer race, the quicker refuelling time of the H2 Speed might make up for this.


* Credit where credit is due.  Some of these stats and comparisons have been taken from a 2017 issue of How It Works magazine (issue 105); there have been some developments in both corners since then!


  1. Pranesh says:

    If the power comes from hydro, wind or solar, then it’s all good.
    Not so.
    Hydropower is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions: a new study shows that the world’s hydroelectric dams are responsible for as much methane emissions as Canada.
    Sign up to the Green Light email to get the planet’s most important stories
    Read more

    The study from Washington State University finds that methane, which is at least 34 times more potent than another greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, makes up 80% of the emissions from water storage reservoirs created by dams.

    June 24th, 2019 at 2:51 pm

  2. Richard Flanagan says:

    In time we should see a more in depth evaluation of ICE’s, EV’s & HV’s. It would need to consider a number of often forgotten trends and components for each of the vehicles including:
    1. Home maintenance v Professional;
    2. Life expectancy or turnover;
    3. Capital Cost (CAPEX), not only of the whole vehicle but any major component that has a significant percentage of the capital cost that differs from the vehicle life expectancy. This of course involves the shorter life of a major battery component of an EV when compared with the other vehicles. This is sometimes considered as a subcomponent of CAPEX or Operating cost (OPEX);
    4. CAPEX above would allow some comparison of a cost per km or pa;
    5. The bottom line of OPEX should look at cost per km or pa;
    6. Has anyone looked at the registration and insurance cost of the newcomers compared with the ICE’s. While any newcomer may have to spend some time in the fleet before those costs plateau out. They are a component of the annual OPEX that a large number of the buyers should be interested in and may not initially be even;
    7. As with the recorded introduction of the ICE’s (and EV’s have run the gauntlet) with and without the CSIRO development there may be a perceived higher risk or danger associated with hydrogen fuel. Hope we don’t need to walk in front of a HV with a orange flag. A full evaluation would likely include a Risk Evaluation on the three types over a all aspects;

    June 24th, 2019 at 4:20 pm

  3. Helge Raatz says:

    there is one factor that wasn’t mentioned about EV, however, it is an essential part and probably the most controversial in an EV: the battery and it’s environmental impact, eg. the mining process of lithium and other rare metals used, the cost of it and the disposal at the end of its life span.

    Kind Regards

    June 24th, 2019 at 6:45 pm

  4. Bill Nixon says:

    Since test driving a friend’s Tesla Roadster six years ago I have been convinced electric cars are the way of the future. However, I don’t see myself driving one, probably ever, as I’m getting older and EV are still too expensive and the charging stations too few and too far apart. Also consider that because of the long time to recharge batteries there will need to be many more recharging stations than petrol bowsers to provide the same level of service to motorists. A car sits at a bowser for two or three minutes to load enough petro to do 500 plus Km. To do the same distance an EV will need to stay at the electric ‘bowser’ charging its battery for much longer. When you observe how ubiquitous petrol stations are today, it is mind blowing to think how many more charging stations will be needed to achieve a similar result. Australia is also facing a shortfall of electric power due to a lack of government policies and this will make the widespread acceptance of EV’s even harder.

    June 24th, 2019 at 8:42 pm

  5. Jason says:

    One thing that is failed to mention with Hydrogen, it currently costs twice the price of Petrol/Diesel and takes 4 times the amount of electricity to produce compared to just using a battery. So if your mission is the petrol industry to replace their product with another dependency product, or you are the car company/dealership looking to replace their product with another product that needs comparable servicing, then hydrogen is the answer. But if you’re a consumer looking to reduce your annual total vehicle spend then Battery Electric Vehicle is the clear winner.
    The Mirai is a good example compared to the Tesla Model 3. The Mirai uses 5kg of hydrogen to go 500km and the Model 3 uses 75kWh of electricity to go 500km. 5kg of hydrogen costs upwards to $80 and 75kWh of electricity costs upwards to $25 (my electricity is cheaper and would cost $15, my petrol car would cost about $45).
    Look at who is pushing hydrogen cars and then you can understand why they are doing that. At the moment it really does not make any sense to push hydrogen as a fuel for cars.
    Oh, and everyone talks about needing recharge stations like we need petrol stations. That really is not true. Plenty of people have a garage in Australia, and you can plug an electric car straight into a power point. Think about that for a minute, how many places do you go where there is not a power point. Now hydrogen you will need like we have petrol stations, it will be the only place you can get hydrogen.
    Finally, with hydrogen you still have tankers driving all over the place to deliver hydrogen, but with electricity you already got the poles and wires delivering power. How much less congested will be the streets when you remove a huge portion of truck traffic?

    June 26th, 2019 at 7:37 am