The Canadian market will require both EVs and hydrogen fuel cell carsMay 18, 2023
To hit its carbon emission reduction targets, the country will likely need more than one option.
The Canadian federal government is making billions in investments into zero-emission vehicles, but while most is being poured into battery electric vehicles (EVs), a recent CBC report shows that industry analysts are recommending both EVs and hydrogen fuel cell cars.
The Canadian government has set two primary sets of zero-emission vehicle targets.
The first of the government’s targets is for light duty vehicles, which includes everything from passenger vehicles to large personal pickup trucks. The second is for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, ranging from large commercial pickup trucks to tractor-trailers. It does not specify in the targets whether EVs or hydrogen fuel cell cars are preferred, though EVs are receiving the majority of the funding in the personal vehicle category.
The country has committed to a zero-emission target of 2035 for light-duty vehicles sold in Canada. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles will have the regulations apply to them by 2040.
New multibillion-dollar electric vehicle plants are being planned in the country, with massive funding coming from the federal government. These are being celebrated as “game changer” moves for the auto sector in the country, as well as for the broader economy, as the world moves to invest in cleaner technologies.
Industry analysts are warning that investments are needed in hydrogen fuel cell cars to meet targets.
There are several reasons identified in the report to explain why Canada will need more than just EVs to meet emissions target goals. According to PhD student Adithya Legala at the University of Waterloo’s Fuel Cell and Green Energy Lab, EVs alone are inadequate for the Canadian market.
Among the reasons identified included consumer behaviors and capacity, according to Legala. He explained that the capacity is a struggle because it would mean that achieving emissions targets would reply exclusively on the electric grid. This would add substantial stress to the grid.
“Our household power consumption is somewhere around 20 to 30 kilowatt [hours] in a day, and an electric vehicle’s average battery size is between 60 to 90 kilowatt hours, so essentially tripling overnight the entire power demand,” explained Legala.
While he said it is technically possible, he isn’t certain that it could be accomplished within the current timeline and in the present rate at which consumers are purchasing EVs.
“The race to electrify everything is to the point where we will probably have grid capacity issues sometime during this decade,” said Robert Statsko, Hydrogen Business Council executive director.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars might suit North American driver needs better than EVs in many circumstances.
While EVs seem highly appropriate for the EU market, where smaller vehicles are common and shorter distances are driven, the same cannot be said about much of North America. North Americans are accustomed to larger vehicles and tend to have to travel longer distances than their European counterparts. Larger vehicles require larger batteries.
“The GM Hummer … has a 3,000-pound battery. So, it is actually towing another Corolla behind it,” pointed out Legala. “So yes, it is an electric vehicle, but is that what we need?”
He also stated that General Motors announced last month that it intended to discontinue its Bolt EV. “They feel like, no, people are not buying smaller cars and we need bigger cars. So as the vehicles grow in size, the battery packs grow in size because now you need longer range. So especially if you’re looking at medium duty to heavy duty: batteries are not the only solution or they have a very niche application.”
Canadian geography and the intended vehicle use points to hydrogen fuel cell cars.
The way Canadians plan to use their zero-emission vehicles and the country’s geography itself will help to determine precisely which technology will best suit them.
“All-battery vehicles make perfect sense in an urban environment,” said Stasko. “And I would not try to replace that kind of application, in an urban setting, with a hydrogen car.” However, he added that for larger, heavier vehicles and those traveling longer distances – including everything from cars to trains, hydrogen fuel cells make sense.
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