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Visualized: Battery Vs. Hydrogen Fuel Cell

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hydrogen fuel cell vs battery

Battery Electric Vs. Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Since the introduction of the Nissan Leaf (2010) and Tesla Model S (2012), battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) have become the primary focus of the automotive industry.

This structural shift is moving at an incredible rate—in China, 3 million BEVs were sold in 2021, up from 1 million the previous year. In the U.S., the number of models available for sale is expected to double by 2024.

In order to meet global climate targets, however, the International Energy Agency claims that the auto industry will require 30 times more minerals per year. Many fear that this could put a strain on supply.

“The data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals.”
– Fatih Birol, IEA

Thankfully, BEVs are not the only solution for decarbonizing transportation. In this infographic, we explain how the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) works.

How Does Hydrogen Fuel Cell Work?

FCEVs are a type of electric vehicle that produces no emissions (aside from the environmental cost of production). The main difference is that BEVs contain a large battery to store electricity, while FCEVs create their own electricity by using a hydrogen fuel cell.

Major BEV ComponentsMajor FCEV Components
BatteryBattery
Onboard chargerHydrogen fuel tank
Electric motorFuel cell stack
Electric motor
Exhaust

Let’s go over the functions of the major FCEV components.

Battery

First is the lithium-ion battery, which stores electricity to power the electric motor. In an FCEV, the battery is smaller because it’s not the primary power source. For general context, the Model S Plaid contains 7,920 lithium-ion cells, while the Toyota Mirai FCEV contains 330.

Hydrogen Fuel Tank

FCEVs have a fuel tank that stores hydrogen in its gas form. Liquid hydrogen can’t be used because it requires cryogenic temperatures (−150°C or −238°F). Hydrogen gas, along with oxygen, are the two inputs for the hydrogen fuel cell.

Fuel Cell Stack and Motor

The fuel cell uses hydrogen gas to generate electricity. To explain the process in layman’s terms, hydrogen gas passes through the cell and is split into protons (H+) and electrons (e-).

Protons pass through the electrolyte, which is a liquid or gel material. Electrons are unable to pass through the electrolyte, so they take an external path instead. This creates an electrical current to power the motor.

Exhaust

At the end of the fuel cell’s process, the electrons and protons meet together and combine with oxygen. This causes a chemical reaction that produces water (H2O), which is then emitted out of the exhaust pipe.

Which Technology is Winning?

As you can see from the table below, most automakers have shifted their focus towards BEVs. Notably missing from the BEV group is Toyota, the world’s largest automaker.

Hydrogen fuel cells have drawn criticism from notable figures in the industry, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess.

Green hydrogen is needed for steel, chemical, aero… and should not end up in cars. Far too expensive, inefficient, slow and difficult to rollout and transport.
– Herbert Diess, CEO, Volkswagen Group

Toyota and Hyundai are on the opposing side, as both companies continue to invest in fuel cell development. The difference between them, however, is that Hyundai (and sister brand Kia) has still released several BEVs.

This is a surprising blunder for Toyota, which pioneered hybrid vehicles like the Prius. It’s reasonable to think that after this success, BEVs would be a natural next step. As Wired reports, Toyota placed all of its chips on hydrogen development, ignoring the fact that most of the industry was moving a different way. Realizing its mistake, and needing to buy time, the company has resorted to lobbying against the adoption of EVs.

Confronted with a losing hand, Toyota is doing what most large corporations do when they find themselves playing the wrong game—it’s fighting to change the game.
– Wired

Toyota is expected to release its first BEV, the bZ4X crossover, for the 2023 model year—over a decade since Tesla launched the Model S.

Challenges to Fuel Cell Adoption

Several challenges are standing in the way of widespread FCEV adoption.

One is performance, though the difference is minor. In terms of maximum range, the best FCEV (Toyota Mirai) was EPA-rated for 402 miles, while the best BEV (Lucid Air) received 505 miles.

Two greater issues are 1) hydrogen’s efficiency problem, and 2) a very limited number of refueling stations. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are just 48 hydrogen stations across the entire country. 47 are located in California, and 1 is located in Hawaii.

On the contrary, BEVs have 49,210 charging stations nationwide, and can also be charged at home. This number is sure to grow, as the Biden administration has allocated $5 billion for states to expand their charging networks.

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Electrification

Visualizing 10 Years of Global EV Sales by Country

This infographic charts the exponential growth of EV sales by country over the last decade.

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ev sales by country

10 Years of EV Sales by Country

In 2011, around 55,000 electric vehicles (EVs) were sold around the world. 10 years later in 2021, that figure had grown close to 7 million vehicles.

With many countries getting plugged into electrification, the global EV market has seen exponential growth over the last decade. Using data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), this infographic shows the explosion in global EV sales since 2011, highlighting the countries that have grown into the biggest EV markets.

The Early EV Days

From 2011 to 2015, global EV sales grew at an average annual rate of 89%, with roughly one-third of global sales occurring in the U.S. alone.

YearTotal EV SalesCAGR
201155,414-
2012132,013138.2%
2013220,34366.9%
2014361,15763.9%
2015679,23588.0%
Total sales / Avg growth1,448,16289.3%

In 2014, the U.S. was the largest EV market followed by China, the Netherlands, Norway, and France. But things changed in 2015, when China’s EV sales grew by 238% relative to 2014, propelling it to the top spot.

China’s growth had been years in the making, with the government offering generous subsidies for electrified cars, in addition to incentives and policies that encouraged production. In 2016, Chinese consumers bought more EVs than the rest of the world combined—and the country hasn’t looked back, accounting for over half of global sales in 2021.

EV Sales by Country in 2021

After remaining fairly flat in 2019, global EV sales grew by 38% in 2020, and then more than doubled in 2021. China was the driver of the growth—the country sold more EVs in 2021 than the rest of the world combined in 2020.

Country2021 EV Sales% of Total
China 🇨🇳3,519,05451.7%
U.S. 🇺🇸631,1529.3%
Germany 🇩🇪695,65710.2%
France 🇫🇷322,0434.7%
UK 🇬🇧326,9904.8%
Norway 🇳🇴153,6992.3%
Italy 🇮🇹141,6152.1%
Sweden 🇸🇪138,7712.0%
South Korea 🇰🇷119,4021.8%
Netherlands 🇳🇱97,2821.4%
Rest of Europe 🇪🇺 469,9306.9%
Rest of the World 🌍 313,1294.6%
Total6,809,322100.0%

China has nearly 300 EV models available for purchase, more than any other country, and it’s also home to four of the world’s 10 largest battery manufacturers. Moreover, the median price of electric cars in China is just 10% more than conventional cars, compared to 45-50% on average in other major markets.

Germany, Europe’s biggest auto market, sold nearly 700,000 EVs in 2021, up 72% from 2020. The country hosts some of the biggest EV factories in Europe, with Tesla, Volkswagen, and Chinese battery giant CATL either planning or operating ‘gigafactories’ there. Overall, sales in Europe increased by 65% in 2021, as evidenced by the seven European countries in the above list.

The U.S. also made a comeback after a two-year drop, with EV sales more than doubling in 2021. The growth was supported by a 24% increase in EV model availability, and also by an increase in production of Tesla models, which accounted for half of U.S. EV sales.

Tesla’s Dominance in the U.S.

Tesla is the world’s most renowned electric car company and its dominance in the U.S. is unmatched.

Between 2011 and 2019, Tesla accounted for 40% of all EVs sold in the United States. Furthermore, Tesla cars have been the top-selling EV models in the U.S. in every year since 2015.

EV Model2021 Sales% of 2021 U.S. EV Sales
Tesla Model Y*185,99429.5%
Tesla Model 3*147,46023.4%
Ford Mustang Mach-E27,1404.3%
Chevy Bolt EV/EUV24,8283.9%
Volkswagen ID.416,7422.7%
Tesla Model S*15,5452.5%
Nissan Leaf14,2392.3%
Porsche Taycan9,4191.5%
Tesla Model X*7,9851.3%
Audi e-tron7,4291.2%

*Estimates
Share of total sales calculated using total U.S. EV sales of 631,152 units, based on data from the IEA.
Source: Cleantechnica

Tesla accounted for over 50% of EV sales in the U.S. in 2021 with the Model Y—launched in 2019—taking the top spot. Furthermore, the Model Y remained the bestselling EV in the first quarter of 2022, with Tesla taking up a massive 75% of the EV market share.

Despite Tesla’s popularity, it could face a challenge as other automakers roll out new models and expand EV production. For example, General Motors aims to make 20 EV models available by 2025, and Ford expects to produce at least 2 million EVs annually by 2026. This increase in competition from incumbents and new entrants could eat away at Tesla’s market share in the coming years.

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Electrification

EVs vs. Gas Vehicles: What Are Cars Made Out Of?

Electric vehicles can have 6 times more minerals than a combustion vehicle and be on average 340 kg heavier.

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What are Cars Made Out of? Electric Vehicles vs Gas Cars

EVs vs. Gas Vehicles: What Are Cars Made Out Of?

Electric vehicles (EVs) require a wider range of minerals for their motors and batteries compared to conventional cars.

In fact, an EV can have up to six times more minerals than a combustion vehicle, making them on average 340 kg (750 lbs) heavier.

This infographic, based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), compares the minerals used in a typical electric car with a conventional gas car.

Editor’s note: Steel and aluminum are not shown in analysis. Mineral values are for the entire vehicle including batteries and motors.

Batteries Are Heavy

Sales of electric cars are booming and the rising demand for minerals used in EVs is already posing a challenge for the mining industry to keep up. That’s because, unlike gas cars that run on internal combustion engines, EVs rely on huge, mineral-intensive batteries to power the car.

For example, the average 60 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery pack—the same size that’s used in a Chevy Bolt—alone contains roughly 185 kilograms of minerals, or about 10 times as much as in a typical car battery (18 kg).

Lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, and graphite are all crucial to battery performance, longevity, and energy density. Furthermore, EVs can contain more than a mile of copper wiring inside the stator to convert electric energy into mechanical energy.

Out of the eight minerals in our list, five are not used in conventional cars: graphite, nickel, cobalt, lithium, and rare earths.

MineralContent in electric vehicles (kg)Content in conventional cars (kg)
Graphite (natural and synthetic)66.30
Copper53.222.3
Nickel39.90
Manganese24.511.2
Cobalt13.30
Lithium8.90
Rare earths0.50
Zinc0.10.1
Others0.30.3

Minerals listed for the electric car are based on the IEA’s analysis using a 75 kWh battery pack with a NMC 622 cathode and graphite-based anode.

Since graphite is the primary anode material for EV batteries, it’s also the largest component by weight. Although materials like nickel, manganese, cobalt, and lithium are smaller components individually, together they make up the cathode, which plays a critical role in determining EV performance.

Although the engine in conventional cars is heavier compared to EVs, it requires fewer minerals. Engine components are usually made up of iron alloys, such as structural steels, stainless steels, iron base sintered metals, as well as cast iron or aluminum alloyed parts.

EV motors, however, often rely on permanent magnets made of rare earths and can contain up to a mile of copper wiring that converts electric energy into mechanical energy.

The EV Impact on Metals Markets

The growth of the EV market is not only beginning to have a noticeable impact on the automobile industry but the metals market as well.

EVs and battery storage have already displaced consumer electronics to become the largest consumer of lithium and are set to take over from the stainless steel industry as the largest end-user of nickel by 2040.

In 2021 H2, 84,600 tonnes of nickel were deployed onto roads globally in the batteries of all newly sold passenger EVs combined, 59% more than in 2020 H2. Moreover, another 107,200 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) were deployed globally in new EV batteries, an 88% increase year-on-year.

With rising government support and consumers embracing electric vehicles, securing the supply of the materials necessary for the EV revolution will remain a top priority.

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