The Future of Electric vs. Hydrogen Fleets: The Race to Net Zero

The race to achieve Net Zero 2050 is well underway, with industries across the UK working towards reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 100% in comparison to 1990 levels. As part of this ambitious target, the road transport industry as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in the UK is undergoing a transformation to decarbonise and contribute to a sustainable future. Two potential solutions have emerged as frontrunners in this race: electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). In this article, I will explore why electric fleet vehicles are the future and not hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Power Source: Electricity vs. Hydrogen

Let us start with the basics; as we all probably know by now electric vehicles are powered by electricity stored in rechargeable batteries with these batteries being charged by plugging the vehicle into an electrical outlet or using a dedicated charging station.

On the other hand, hydrogen vehicles use fuel cells to convert hydrogen gas into electricity. The fuel cells combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, with water vapour being the only by-product. While both power sources offer a cleaner alternative to traditional fuel-powered vehicles, there are key differences to consider.

Infrastructure: Charging vs. Refuelling

The infrastructure required for supporting electric vehicles includes charging stations at homes, workplaces, and public areas with 44,408 electric vehicle charging points currently across the UK, across 25,521 charging locations according to Zapmap.

The charging time can vary depending on the charging level, ranging from minutes to several hours based on the type of charger (slow, fast, rapid, ultra-rapid) and how quick a particular vehicle can be charged.

In contrast, hydrogen vehicles need a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, which is currently less developed and practically non-existent across the UK with the little hydrogen stations we do have in the UK concentrated in certain regions. This lack of widespread refuelling infrastructure poses a challenge to the adoption of hydrogen vehicles and one I cannot see being improved in the very near future.

Environmental Impact: Zero Emissions, but Carbon Footprint Varies

Both electric and hydrogen vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions, making them more environmentally friendly than traditional fuel-powered vehicles. However, the environmental impact of these vehicles depends on the source of electricity or hydrogen used.

Electric vehicles produce zero emissions locally, but the overall carbon footprint depends on the source of electricity used for charging. With this in mind if the electricity is generated from renewable sources such as solar or wind, the carbon footprint of EVs can be significantly reduced.

On the other hand, hydrogen vehicles also produce zero tailpipe emissions, but the production of hydrogen gas often relies on fossil fuels (except green hydrogen), resulting in higher carbon emissions. Additionally, the process of producing and transporting hydrogen can be energy-intensive, further impacting the carbon footprint of hydrogen vehicles.

The manufacturing process of both electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles does create more initial emissions, mainly due to the mining of battery components; then an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle though battery electric vehicles create less emissions through their life cycle compared to their ICE vehicle counterparts.

Despite what you might read or hear in tabloid journals, batteries in EVs can last over 100,000 miles and they can have both a second and third life thereafter without the need of being disposed of in landfill.


Electrifying your fleet isn’t the only way to reduce your business’ carbon footprint. Here are a few other measures you can take to make sure your business is as green as it can be.

Infrastructure Availability and Considerations

When it comes to infrastructure availability, electric vehicles have a clear advantage with an already established and rapidly growing charging infrastructure, EV owners have the convenience of charging their vehicles at home, work, or public charging stations. This ease of access contributes to the growing popularity of electric vehicles.

On the other hand, hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is still in its early stages of development with only around 15 stations dotted around the country. The limited number of hydrogen refuelling stations, coupled with their concentration in very specific regions, poses a challenge for hydrogen vehicles’ widespread adoption and until a robust refuelling infrastructure is in place, hydrogen vehicles will struggle to compete with the convenience of electric vehicles in both the short and longer term.

In addition, there are simply not enough original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) committing or manufacturing hydrogen vehicles with only the Hyundai Nexo SUV and Toyota Mirai being currently available to buy with the cost currently ranging between £50,000 to £60,000 respectively. Vauxhall announced earlier this year that their E-Hydrogen van which has a range of approximately 250 miles and can be refuelled in just three minutes will be available to buy sometime in 2023.

Whilst Vauxhall have not announced the cost of the vehicle it is estimated it will be in the £60,000 region. In comparison a Vauxhall E-Vivaro has worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure (WLTP) or range of approximately 133-194 miles and costs between £35,000 to £39,000.

Driving Range and Refuelling Time

Electric vehicles have made significant strides in terms of driving range in recent years. With advancements in battery technology, many EV models can now travel over 200 miles on a single charge.

Additionally, the increasing availability of fast and ultra-rapid charging stations allows for quick top-ups during longer trips though again some charging infrastructure in more remote rural areas remains a problem. The extended driving range, coupled with faster charging times, makes electric vehicles a viable existing option for both short and long journeys.

Hydrogen vehicles, on the other hand, do have the advantage of quick refuelling times and will take a similar amount of time as refuelling a traditional fuel-powered vehicle, making it more comparable to the familiar refuelling experience. However, the very limited availability of hydrogen refuelling stations further limits the practicality of long trips with hydrogen vehicles.

Cost Considerations: Purchase, Operation, and Maintenance

When it comes to cost considerations, electric vehicles are still a third and sometimes almost double the cost of traditional fuel-powered vehicles, though they have seen a significant reduction in purchase prices in recent years.

Additionally, the cost of electricity used for charging is generally lower than the cost of hydrogen fuel despite the increases in energy prices over the last 12 months. The operation and maintenance costs of electric vehicles are also relatively lower due to fewer moving parts and simplified maintenance requirements.

In contrast, hydrogen vehicles are currently even more expensive than electric vehicles, and the production and transportation of hydrogen gas can be expensive, which translates to higher fuel costs for hydrogen vehicles.

Additionally, the limited availability of hydrogen refuelling stations adds to that cost equation. The higher upfront costs and ongoing expenses make hydrogen vehicles less economically viable compared to electric vehicles.

Long-Term Viability and Innovation

Electric vehicles have gained significant traction in recent years, with investments in battery technology and increasing charging infrastructure. The advancements in battery technology have led to improved driving ranges and faster charging times, making EVs more practical and convenient for everyday use.

Furthermore, the widespread adoption of electric vehicles has paved the way for future innovations such as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, where EVs will be able to feed electricity back into the grid during peak demand periods, contributing to a more resilient and sustainable energy system.

Ongoing research and development in hydrogen fuel cell technology may lead to advancements that make hydrogen vehicles a more viable option in the future particularly for larger commercial fleets and vehicles being used for long-haul transportation.

Conclusion: Electric Fleets Lead the Way

In the race to achieve Net Zero emissions, clearly electric fleets emerge as the frontrunners. The more established charging infrastructure, lower costs, and environmental benefits make electric vehicles a more practical and sustainable choice for the road transport industry. While hydrogen vehicles offer certain advantages, such as quick refuelling times and longer driving ranges, the limited infrastructure and higher costs does hinder their widespread adoption.

The increasing availability of renewable energy sources and the growing focus on sustainable energy solutions further strengthens the case for electric vehicles. By utilising renewable energy for charging, individuals and fleet operators choosing electric vehicles can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable energy system.

As the UK and industries around the world work towards decarbonisation, electric vehicles do hold the key to a cleaner and greener future. With ongoing advancements in battery technology, charging infrastructure, and renewable energy sources, electric vehicles are set to dominate the road transport industry and play a vital role in achieving a sustainable Net Zero future.

Written by:
Chris is Head of Corporate Fleet, Transport and Accessible Community Transport at the London Borough of Islington, where he is responsible for over 500 vehicles and 150+ staff as the local authority’s licence holder. With more than 20 years of overall public sector experience, he has extensive knowledge of all things fleet management and vehicle tracking, with a specialist interest in fleet electrification. Currently, he is leading the transition of the Islington council fleet from fossil fuelled to electric and alternative fuel vehicles in line with its 2030 net zero pledge. He is committed to deploying new and innovative technologies wherever possible, including an award-winning electrification programme that has seen the borough upcycle the internal combustion engines of its refuse collection fleet (aka bin wagons). A well-known and respected figure in the fleet and transportation industry, Chris regularly shares his best practice and knowledge at trade shows, most recently speaking at Fleet & Mobility Live – the UK’s largest fleet and mobility conference. Reviewing Expert Market’s vehicle tracking articles with a keen eye to everything from fleet and driver risk compliance to forward-looking trends like V2G (vehicle-to-grid). In his spare time, Chris runs ultra-marathons and is a keen supporter of both Spurs and Saracens. All views and content endorsements expressed here are Chris’ own and do not reflect the views of his employer, the London Borough of Islington.