BRITE Energy Innovators

What Powers an Electric Vehicle?

Back to Basics

Although I’ve been a part of Team BRITE Energy Innovators for well over a year, there’s a lot of basics I fail to grasp when it comes to the fundamental building blocks for energy-tech companies. I’ve even gone so far this spring as to purchase an Electricity Master Lab for ages 10 and up. Yes, it’s basic physics I should’ve grasped in elementary school. I’ve got to say though, I finally get the difference between AC and DC.

At BRITE, we engage daily with electric vehicle companies. Sure, I can talk my way around some of the concepts like charging, vehicle-to-grid and automation. However, if you were to point blank ask me what powers an electric vehicle, I’d still have to glance at Wikipedia.

Fuel Cell EV’s vs. Battery EV’s

Recently I participated in a webinar hosted by the Colorado Energy Research Collaboratory on fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen fueling. The state recently launched the Colorado Hydrogen Network, which is a collaboration of public and private partners working to promote hydrogen technology.

I appreciated the webinar because it was the most simplistic of introductions to fuel cells for automotives I’ve ever participated in. You see, there are two types of electric vehicles on the market today: fuel cell EV’s and battery EV’s. Below is a chart of how they differentiate:

CharacteristicBattery EVFuel Cell EV
Range100-300 milesunlimited via refueling
Refueling Time30+ minutes3 minutes
Refueling TemperatureAbove 32 DegreesAny Temperature
Cold Temperature RangeReduce 30-50% CapacityN/A
Fuel Cost Per Mile4 cents11 cents
Power Source Lifespan100,000 miles +250,000 miles +


In BRITE’s portfolio, an example of a fuel cell EV is Hyperion Motors and of a battery EV is Lordstown Motors. Fuel cells and batteries are necessary forms of energy storage for transportation because they are both portable and storable.  Fuel cells utilize a hydrogen tank to turn hydrogen into electricity to power the engine motor. It’s a chemical three-step process that uses an electrolyzer, tank and engine. Batteries store energy as electrons in a two-step process.

Battery EVs are often in the news and familiar to consumers with brands such as Tesla, Chevy and BMW. I was less aware of the number of fuel cell cars on the market, namely from Hyundai, Honda and Toyota.

Nationally EV charging infrastructure is expanding through public/private partnerships and consumer demand. Deployment of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is slower, in part because of the chicken-or-egg conundrum of the need for fueling infrastructure and consumers. The next few years will be interesting to see as California and other states make efforts to invest in hydrogen fueling stations along with energy-storage solutions for batteries.

Sara Daughtery serves as the Director of Operations & Economic Development at BRITE Energy Innovators.

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