Lithium batteries have edge over hydrogen for transport, says Australian professor


From pv magazine Australia

Hydrogen will need nothing short of a groundbreaking invention and a giant windfall of cash to eclipse lithium batteries in the race to become the dominant green transport fuel, according to an expert at the University of Western Australia.

“Right now, hydrogen is not even close,” said Professor Ray Wills, managing director of Future Smart Strategies, told pv magazine Australia.

Markets tend to prefer single-market solutions, Wills said. In other words, monopolies. Think, for example, of Google – despite all the hype around the potential for the democratization of the internet, just a handful of companies are in control. Once a company or technology gains the upper hand, it's difficult to stop its ascent. Market advantage tends to stick.

Which is precisely what Wills believes will happen with lithium batteries, leaving hydrogen in its wake. “Hydrogen as transport fuel is still a long way behind lithium batteries,” he says. 

Today, the global electric vehicle fleet is believed to be more than 10 million. According to EV Volumes, an EV sales world database, sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) rose from 2.26 million units in 2019 to 3.24 million vehicles in 2020.

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These numbers are considerably bigger than hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fleets, which are in the tens of thousands. There are simply more EVs being made at present. 

So is it possible for hydrogen to shoot out from behind? Technically yes, Wills says. But it would need a great push – nothing short of a miraculous invention that could double hydrogen’s efficiency would make it real competitor. Does that seem probable? “Not in the next five years,” says Wills. 

Hydrogen could take off if lithium batteries don’t perform, or if prices and battery densities fail to meet consumer needs. But given the rapid progress that batteries have made in the last decade, Wills gives little weight to the scenario.

Another problem is the issue of infrastructure. But as Wills notes, electric charging stations are winning the infrastructure battle. “Could be overturned? Yes, if someone were to pour money at it,” he says.

Government funds are still the driving force behind hydrogen infrastructure installations. EV charging station infrastructure, on the other hand, is already being competitively installed. “It just adds a layer to the advantage,” Wills concludes. 

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