Comparison Guide: Hydrogen vs Electric Cars

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Aug 4, 2021

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What You Should Know

  • Hydrogen cars are rising in popularity as another alternative to gas-fueled vehicles
  • Electric cars and hydrogen cars have noteworthy similarities and differences that should be considered before making a purchase
  • For Americans, an electric car makes more sense than a hydrogen car because of the lack of hydrogen refueling stations

As auto manufacturers catch up with consumer dedication to a cleaner planet and the rejection of fossil fuel, green transportation is growing. While Prius was once the only name in the game, the last decade has seen leading auto brands introduce their own electric and hybrid vehicles. 

Meanwhile, hydrogen vehicles are the new kid on the block. Hydrogen powered vehicles have not yet reached the same popularity as your standard electric vehicle but are a great green option.1

If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly ride to work, you might be wondering about the difference between hydrogen vs electric cars.

Are electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles the future? Which is the best choice for your wallet and the planet? Read on to learn about the similarities and differences between hydrogen and electric cars.

What’s Under the Hood?

Both hydrogen and electric vehicles represent an improvement over their counterparts that use fossil fuel. However, they have some key differences. 

Before we explore price and impact, it’s helpful to understand how the technology within each car works.

Electric Cars

How do electric cars work? Electric cars are powered by a battery, usually a lithium-ion battery. This battery supplies power to the motor and is rechargeable.

Where can you recharge your battery?

  • Most electric car owners have a dedicated charging station in their garage. This way, they can refill the battery each night as they sleep.
  • Electric battery vehicles can also be charged at dedicated charging stations, which can be found throughout most major cities, sometimes near a fueling station.2

Hydrogen Cars

In a way, hydrogen cars are a type of electric car. Hydrogen cars still use an electric motor but are fueled by hydrogen cells. For this reason, you may hear a hydrogen vehicle also referred to as a hydrogen fuel cell car or a fuel cell electric vehicle. 

  • The fuel cell in a hydrogen car produces an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. 
  • This chemical reaction creates electricity and water vapor.
  • The electricity is directed toward the motor, and the water vapor is pushed out of the vehicle.

The process releases a bit of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but much less than any gas-powered vehicle on the market.3 

Is a hydrogen cell equally easy to refuel? Unfortunately, the viability of a hydrogen car depends on the region you live in.

California has 30 dedicated hydrogen refueling stations, but many states in the Southeast have fewer than five.

Be sure to look up how many hydrogen refill stations there are nearby before purchasing a hydrogen car. Despite its benefits, it will not be worth your while to buy a hydrogen car if it is difficult to refuel.4

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Key Similarities: Feel & Earth-Friendliness 

Now that you have some understanding of how hydrogen and electric cars work, let’s look at some of the similarities between the two.

Car Feel

Hydrogen-fueled cars and electric cars both use electricity to power their engines. Because the energy source is similar, these vehicles handle similarly. When you drive a hydrogen-fueled car, it will feel like driving a battery-electric car.

Hydrogen cars, like electric cars, are much quieter than gas-powered cars. They start up quietly and have a similar level of get-up-and-go.

Low Emissions

If you’re wondering, “Are electric vehicles better for the environment?” the answer is yes. The main reason people switch from gas-powered vehicles to electric and hydrogen vehicles is the reduced impact on the planet. The environmental damage caused by electric and hydrogen cars is fractional when compared to the average gas-powered car.

The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a study  that found that if half of all car owners switched to a low emission vehicle, carbon pollution could be reduced by up to 550 million metric tons.5

Low emissions mean a healthier planet.

However, keep in mind that the way you charge your electric battery affects your electric vehicle’s overall carbon footprint.

  • The greener your electricity is, the better your electric car will be for the planet.
  • Charging your car with solar power is cleaner than charging it with coal-fired power.

You can check with your local energy provider to opt into community solar or another green option.

Hydrogen-fueled cars face a similar dilemma. Despite the low emissions generated by the car, the source of hydrogen could still have an environmental impact. Fossil fuels generate up to 95% of hydrogen. Regardless, hydrogen cars are still much better for the planet than gasoline-fueled cars.6,7

Key Differences: Cost, Ease of Use, & Options

While people buy electric cars and hydrogen cars for similar reasons, there are some noteworthy differences between the two.

Weigh the following factors when shopping for green vehicles.

When it Cost to Affordable Cost, Electric Vehicles are King

The price of hydrogen has changed slightly over the past few years and is trending downward, but the cost to refuel a hydrogen car is much higher than it is to recharge an electric battery.

Where gasoline is charged by the gallon, hydrogen is charged by the kilogram. 

  • A kilogram of hydrogen, which fuels a hydrogen-powered car for ~70 miles, costs $16.51.
  • Electric cars, meanwhile, only cost about $9 for a full charge.8

By 2025, a kilogram of hydrogen is expected to cost between $6.00 and $8.50.9 But even when those price changes come, it will probably still be cheaper to recharge an electric vehicle.10

Why? Because the hydrogen market is so new, the prices may fluctuate before trending downward. Electricity prices, conversely, are fairly stable.11

Hydrogen Cars Have Greater Range than Electric Vehicles

If you’ve ever thought about purchasing an electric vehicle, you’ve probably already heard about its major drawback—range. 

Electric vehicles on a full charge drive between 110 miles to 373 miles, depending on the model. However, most electric vehicles have a range of fewer than 200 miles, which is less than that of a gas-powered car.12

Hydrogen cars, on the other hand, have an average range of about 300 miles. The range for a hydrogen car is noticeably higher than that of an electric car. But given the rarity of hydrogen refueling options in some areas, the added range is needed.13

If you need to drive long distances between refuels and recharges, hydrogen may be your better bet.

Both Cars Have Refueling Pros and Cons

Electric cars take significantly longer to refuel than their hydrogen-fueled counterparts. Hydrogen cars only take between 3 and 5 minutes to refuel, while an electric car can take up to 48 hours. Some electric cars can take as little as a half-hour to charge, but even the fastest electric car takes longer to charge than your standard hydrogen vehicle.

The tradeoff, however, is the frequency with which you can refuel a hydrogen-powered car. Because hydrogen-fueled cars are such a new technology, there are not as many available refuel stations. 

But if you’ve been interested in green cars for a while, you can probably guess that more stations are to come.

  • A decade ago, it was uncommon to find a plug-in station for an electric car. Now, electric charging stations can be found throughout the US.
  • California plans to build 150 more hydrogen refueling stations by 2025. That number is expected to grow even more by 2030.14

For now, electric vehicles have the edge as far as refueling is concerned, but that may change as hydrogen stations become more widespread. In addition, the faster hydrogen-powered refill makes trips to refuel stations a lot shorter. 

Electric Cars Buyers Have More Options

There are many more options for prospective electric car owners than there are for potential hydrogen car owners. Hydrogen cars are a new technology, while electric vehicles have been sold widely over the past decade.

Most automakers have a variety of electric cars to choose from.

In contrast, few companies manufacture hydrogen-powered cars, and of those that do tend to have one or two options.

Which is Better, Hydrogen Or Electric Cars?

When it comes to hydrogen vs electric cars for the average American, it makes more sense to buy an electric car. You’ll benefit from:

  • Widespread accessibility to charging stations
  • Low refueling costs
  • Low emissions
  • A wide range of new and used vehicles to choose from

Hydrogen cars certainly have their benefits and become a more attractive option each year. However, the rarity of hydrogen refueling stations in many states makes it impossible for some to justify buying a hydrogen-powered car. While the difference in refuel speed is worth consideration, the higher cost of hydrogen outweighs the benefits of a quicker refill. 

What to Do If You Have a Long Commute

While electric cars generally win out, it may be worth considering a hydrogen car if you have a long commute and your state has an adequate number of refueling stations.

Electric cars are not great for consistent long-distance driving. The refuel times are long, and the range on electric cars are some of the shortest in the industry.

The Future for Hydrogen

Hydrogen vehicles are somewhat new compared to electric vehicles, especially new when compared to gas-powered cars. The technology has room for improvement and will almost definitely make leaps in the coming years.

Think about the electric car market a decade ago—there were fewer options, and the lack of accessibility made it an unlikely option for many. Now, plug-in stations can be found everywhere, and in some places, electric vehicles even have preferred parking. 

There are already plans in place to give hydrogen-powered vehicles similar opportunities for growth, but if you’re looking to make your purchase in the near future, it will be easier to refuel your electric vehicle.

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To Keep Saving, Insure Your Hydrogen or Electric Car

Both hydrogen and electric cars can significantly reduce carbon emissions while sparing your bank account from the unpredictable cost of gasoline.

To keep saving on fuel costs while preserving the environment, make sure you adequately protect your green vehicle with car insurance.

Finding the right insurance company can be a hassle—but don’t fret, 4AutoInsuranceQuote makes comparing rates easy. Our goal is to help you find the best rate for your region.

Enter your ZIP code and find a rate just for you. There’s no need to waste a full day charting and comparing insurance rates for different companies. We can match you with affordable rates and the coverage you need quickly and professionally.

Our blog can also help answer your most pressing questions from “Are hybrids more expensive to insure?” to “What is the difference in the cost of an electric car vs. a gas car?” 

Then, hit the road knowing your car and the earth are protected!

References:

  1. Popular Mechanics. Hydrogen Cars – How Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Work. https://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/hybrid-electric/a22688627/hydrogen-fuel-cell-cars/
  2. TWI Global. What are the Key Differences Between Hydrogen and Electric Cars …. https://www.twi-global.com/technical-knowledge/faqs/hydrogen-vs-electric-cars
  3. Policy Advice. Electric Car Statistics and Facts 2021 https://policyadvice.net/insurance/insights/electric-car-statistics/
  4. Department of Energy. 5 Fast Facts about Hydrogen and Fuel Cells. https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/5-fast-facts-about-hydrogen-and-fuel-cells
  5. NRDC. Study: Electric Vehicles Can Dramatically Reduce Carbon Pollution …. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/luke-tonachel/study-electric-vehicles-can-dramatically-reduce-carbon-pollution
  6. USCUSA. How Clean Are Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles? https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/how-clean-are-hydrogen-fuel-cell-vehicles
  7. Popular Mechanics. Truth About Hydrogen Power – Hydrogen Energy and Fuel. https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a926/4199381/
  8. California Fuel Cell Partnership. Cost to refill. https://cafcp.org/content/cost-refill
  9. Green Car Reports. Hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles likely to reach price parity. https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1128428_report-hydrogen-fuel-cell-price-parity-with-gasoline-2025
  10. Alternative Fuels Data Center. Charging Plug-In Electric Vehicles at Home. https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels/electricity_charging_home.html.
  11. Electric Choice. Electric Rates by State. https://www.electricchoice.com/electricity-prices-by-state/
  12. Car and Driver. Electric Vehicle Range Explained. https://www.caranddriver.com/shopping-advice/a32603216/ev-range-explained/
  13. BMW. Hydrogen fuel cell cars: what you need to know. https://www.bmw.com/en/innovation/how-hydrogen-fuel-cell-cars-work.html
  14. Automoblog. Hydrogen vs. Battery: The Electric Car Is Dead. https://www.automoblog.net/2019/10/10/hydrogen-vs-electric-cars/

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