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How hydrogen fuel-cell cars work

The future of green driving has arrived in Canada — but should you buy into it?

Hydrogen fuel-cell cars, also known as fuel-cell electric vehicles (HCEVs), are one of the cleanest, greenest ways to get around. But unless you live near one of the few fueling stations scattered around British Columbia and Quebec, you won’t be able to take advantage of this cutting-edge green vehicle technology.

What is a hydrogen fuel-cell car?

A hydrogen fuel-cell car runs on electricity produced by compressed hydrogen. Unlike other types of electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel-cell cars don’t need to be charged. Instead, they’re fueled at a pump like gas cars — but with none of the greenhouse gas emissions.

They’re as safe to drive as any other car, and the three options on the market today have a range of around 500 kilometres per tank of fuel. While the ability to buy a hydrogen fuel-cell car is limited now, Natural Resources Canada has plans to help build a cross-country infrastructure by 2050 to bring hydrogen power to everyone in Canada.

Where in Canada are hydrogen-powered vehicles being used?

Unfortunately, hydrogen fuel-cell cars are only an option for residents of a few Canadian cities. As of September 2021, Quebec City, Vancouver and Victoria are the only cities in Canada that have hydrogen fuel stations available. But in the future, hydrogen fuel-cell cars will be a great alternative to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) because of their long range and quick fueling time.

Does Canada have hydrogen fuel stations?

Yes, there are currently 5 hydrogen fuel stations in Canada: 3 throughout Vancouver, 1 in Victoria and 1 in Quebec City. And while there are plans to open more fueling stations in other cities and provinces, it will take several years before the infrastructure spreads across the country.

You can visit Natural Resources Canada’s Electric Charging and Alternative Fuelling Stations Locator for a map of hydrogen fuel stations across Canada.

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles currently on the Canadian market

While hydrogen is a promising fuel for the future, there are currently only three models available on the market:

Toyota Mirai

2021 Toyota Mirai

  • MSRP: $73,870 (approximately)
  • Range: 500 km
Hyundai Nexo

2021 Hyundai Nexo

  • MSRP: $73,000
  • Range: 570 km

How does a hydrogen fuel-cell car work?

Hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (HCEVs) work by using electricity from electrons that get separated from compressed hydrogen as it passes through fuel cells. After the electricity has been produced, the electrons and hydrogen get combined with ambient oxygen to produce water. The water then cools the engine and is released as distilled water and steam.

The fuel cells work like a battery. Energy is released in a constant stream, and excess energy is stored in a smaller auxiliary battery. When the car needs an extra push, the electricity from the excess energy source — and from the regenerative braking system — provides the car with a boost.

Want to know more? The Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association has a breakdown on how fuel cells work so you can explore the technology and compare it to other cars on the road.

Why hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the most common element out there — making it highly renewable. However, it rarely exists as free hydrogen. That is, it’s typically found bonded with other atoms.

While there’s plenty of hydrogen produced in North America, it won’t quite fit the bill for those interested in a fully renewable energy source. That’s because the majority of hydrogen is a byproduct of natural gas production, meaning it’s not carbon neutral. However, some fuel stations are able to create it through on-site electrolysis.

Beyond its status as a renewable resource, hydrogen is also twice as efficient as gasoline and provides a much longer range than a typical car battery. And it’s actually faster to refuel with hydrogen than gasoline or compared to charging a full-electric car. That’s why, as far as sustainability goes, hydrogen may be the way of the future.

What are the environmental impacts of an HCEV?

While hydrogen fuel-cell cars are good for the environment, most hydrogen is made in large processing plants and shipped to fueling stations. This makes its production much less green than it would outwardly appear, but it can still be more eco-friendly than other fuels.

But beyond its sometimes dubious fuel origin, hydrogen fuel-cell cars have no emissions besides water. So on the whole, it’s one of the cleanest options out there.

Compare financing options for your hydrogen fuel-cell car

1 - 8 of 8
Name Product Loan Amount Interest Rate Loan Term Min. Credit Score Requirements
CarsFast Car Loans
$500 - $75,000
4.90% - 29.90%
12 - 96 months
Min. income of $2,000 /month, 3+ months employed
Get a new or used vehicle delivered to your door.
Browse thousands of vehicles from dealers across Canada and get matched with financing that meets your needs.
Loans Canada Car Loans
$500 - $35,000
0% - 31.99%
24 - 120 months
Min. income of $1,800 /month, 3+ months employed
Compare rates from 60+ lenders.
Complete a single application to get quotes from different lenders. Bad credit, CERB and EI borrowers considered. 0% APR for new cars only, used car rates start at 7.99%.
Coast Capital Car Loan
18 - 84 months
Able to service debt payment of $300/month
Competitive rates and flexible terms.
Finance new and used vehicles from one of Canada's largest credit unions. No credit union membership required. Available across Canada except SK, QC, NT, NU, YT.
goPeer Car Loans
$1,000 - $25,000
8.00% - 31.00%
36 - 60 months
Min. income of $40,000 /year
P2P platform with competitive rates.
Canada's first regulated consumer peer-to-peer lending platform that connects creditworthy Canadians looking for a loan with Canadians looking to invest.
Clutch Car Loans
$7,500 - No max.
From 3.90%
12 - 96 months
3+ months employed, Max.1 bankruptcy
Pre-qualify for a loan in under 2 minutes with no impact to your credit score.
Get approved for financing in under 24 hours for the used car you want. No hidden fees. Get the vehicle delivered to your door.
Carloans411 Car Loans
$500 - $50,000
1.90% - 19.99%
Up to 72 months
Min. income of $1,600 /month, 3+ months employed
High application approval rate.
Get connected with suitable lenders to finance your next car, van or truck. Check eligibility for this loan through LoanConnect.
Canada Auto Finance
$500 - $45,000
4.90% - 29.95%
3 - 96 months
Min. income of $1,500 /month, 3+ months employed
Get financing from partnered local lenders.
Financing for a new or used car is available for borrowers with bad credit, no credit, CERB, EI or bankruptcy.
Splash Auto Finance
$5,000 - $50,000
9.90% - 31.00%
24 - 84 months
Min. income of $2,200 /month, 3+ months employed
Apply with any credit score.
Get financing for a new or used car. Auto loans for borrowers with fair credit, bad credit, no credit or bankruptcy.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

If you happen to live near a hydrogen fueling station, check out our guide to car loans to find the best financing for your next fuel-cell Toyota or Hyundai. If not, our green car buying guide can help you explore other eco-friendly options available throughout Canada.

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