In 2020, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will be a cheaper vehicle option than fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) for the majority of the light duty fleet (79-97%), according to the study “Relative Economic Competitiveness of Light-Duty Battery Electric and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles,” lead by Geoff Morrison of the Cadmus Group. Geoff was one of the lead authors of this study conducted for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) where he was a research fellow. However, the cost of the two powertrains will converge quickly, and by 2040, FCEVs will be less expensive than BEVs per mile in approximately 71-88% of the LDV fleet, according to the analysis. Additionally, FCEVs will offer notable cost advantages within larger vehicle size classes and for long distances. Following are a couple of highlights from our discussion. You can listen or download the podcast below or listen to it in ITunes.
“The Department of Energy was particularly interested in knowing, are there specific segments of the market that are more suitable to fuel cells, or more suitable to battery electric vehicles? This question was one that a lot of folks in the auto industry have been talking about for a long time, and others within the Department of Energy. There’s a lot of graphs you’ll see in different presentations, or at workshops, where people will say things like, well, we think battery electric vehicles are really suited to urban city driving, maybe lower range, and fuel cells are going to dominate more in the longer range vehicles, maybe more the heavy-duty space. And so, there’s a kind of generality thrown out. Not too many people have actually sat down and quantified what the cost of these vehicles are in different segments. So, that’s essentially what we tried to do with this study. We looked at 77 different segments of the light-duty market in the United States.”
“We kind of set the whole study up with this idea of mass compounding, right at the beginning of this study. For battery electric vehicles, as the capacity of the battery pack increases, and your range increases, an ever greater fraction of the capacity of the battery is being used to move the mass of the battery itself, rather than the mass of the vehicle. On the flip side, for fuel cell electric vehicles, as you’re increasing range, you’re basically just adding a tiny bit more of the hydrogen tank on board, which doesn’t really add much to the mass. You don’t really have the same effect where you’re adding extra fuel on board just so you can haul more fuel like you do for battery packs. Thinking this through that cross-over point where battery electric vehicles become less cost effective than a fuel cell electric vehicle, this mass compounding really matters. The question is, at what point did those two cross? Is it after about 1,000 miles, battery electric vehicles finally become just too heavy, and they’re carrying too many batteries, or is it after 100 miles? That’s an initial question that we pose.”