Researchers balance infrastructure costs of batteries and fuel cells

February 02, 2018 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
The future of mobility is electric, as most researchers presume. For the time being, it is unclear which technology under the bonnet will win the race: Batteries that have to be connected regularly on a charging station while fuel cells that require hydrogen from the filling station. Experts from the Jülich Research Centre (Jülich, Germany) compared the costs of the respective infrastructure - with surprising results.

The costs of the respective infrastructure – a charging network for battery-powered vehicles or hydrogen filling stations - depend heavily on how many vehicles need to be supplied. The comparison of the Jülich Research Centre shows: From several million vehicles and more, it is more cost-efficient to establish a hydrogen infrastructure. Though the study took into account the conditions in Germany, the results may have a certain general validity. 

"Germany has set itself ambitious targets for climate protection,” says Martin Robinius of the Jülich Institute for Energy and Climate Research and one of the authors of the study. "In the transport sector, however, we are still well behind the targeted reductions.” The industrial engineer argues, however, that the transition to low-emission vehicle fleets could be achieved by using electric vehicles that draw their energy from renewable sources.

When the wind turbines in the north of Germany run at full speed, they generate so much electricity that the grid cannot absorb it. This energy could be used to power vehicles. The form in which energy is stored and transported is of central importance: Should battery-powered electric cars be rolling across our roads in the future, or should they be fueled with hydrogen?

Schematic diagram of considered infrastructure set-ups
Source: H2 MOBILITY / Forschungszentrum Jülich, Robinius et al.

Both technologies are still at the beginning of their market development. It is precisely for this reason that it is of central importance to estimate the costs of future infrastructure at an early stage in order to avoid a technological impasse: "If we put everything on one card from the outset, it will be difficult to convert the system if the framework conditions change," argues Robinius. The study at hand, commissioned by the joint venture H2 MOBILITY, is intended to provide orientation here.