© Total / Pierre Adenis
© Total / Pierre Adenis

There are around 300 cars in Germany at present using hydrogen as their fuel, most of them in the North. There are already four hydrogen fuel stations in Hamburg providing fuel to the 50 fuel cell cars registered in this Hanseatic town. Hamburger Verkehrsbetriebe is backing hydrogen and CleverShuttle, a competitor to Uber, is operating 20 hydrogen taxis here. A flagship project is to be launched in Lower Saxony in 2018, namely the fuel cell train “Coradia iLint”.

The problem is less one of technology — Toyota’s Mirai, for example, is one model with a long range — but of infrastructure. With only 30 fuel stations in the whole of Germany, even the Mirai is at best an alternative for town driving. And yet the concept of hydrogen as a source of energy remains a tempting one: The vehicles drive on electric power with the difference that they don’t have a heavy battery that takes a long time to charge; instead they can generate energy directly on board with their fuel cell. The hydrogen is converted into electricity in a chemical process using the oxygen in the air. The only waste product is water.

By 2030 every twelfth car is to be driving on hydrogen

The only drawback is that Nature does not offer limitless supplies of hydrogen. Electricity is needed to produce it which cannot as yet be generated from renewable sources in sufficient volumes. The problem could be solved, remarks Heinrich Klingenberg, Head of HySolutions GmbH, a company that was set up in 2005 and which pools both state and private interests in hydrogen. Last year, we had a wind power surplus worth 500 million euros in Schleswig-Holstein. That goes to waste unless you can find some sensible way to store the energy.”

If things go the way of the Hydrogen Council, a consortium of 18 global companies from the automotive and energy industries, every twelfth car in California, Germany, Japan and South Korea will run on hydrogen by the year 2030. But it will come down to the underlying conditions. 280 billion euros would have to be invested. The price of Toyota’s Mirai in Germany is currently 78,600 euros, by the way.