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Electric cars vs hydrogen fuel cells

Scientists are worried that the world will run out of oil soon. Soon may be anything from 50 years to 200 years. This is one of the reasons why fuel prices are constantly increasing. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. It is for this reason that alternative fuel sources have become a popular topic, not because of the world’s interest in saving the planet. Be that as it may, and notwithstanding the motives of big business, the resulting investment in the development of these alternative fuel sources will have a positive effect on our planet in any event.

The Nissan Leaf will be on our roads soon.

There are two types of fuel sources that will in all probability win the race to become the fuel of choice that will power the cars of tomorrow. Electricity and hydrogen powered fuel cells. Which one will ultimately win the race?

When hydrogen is burned in an engine, the only emissions given off is water, so a hydrogen powered vehicle is a zero emission vehicle. Hydrogen is a better fuel than petrol because it has the highest energy content per unit of weight of any known fuel.

Hydrogen is a very abundant element, one of the most abundant elements on the planet. While hydrogen is currently made using fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, and oil it can be extracted from water and we all know that there is a lot of water on the planet.

Unfortunately there are some problems with hydrogen. One of the biggest problems with using hydrogen to power vehicles is that the world will require a completely new infrastructure to replace the traditional petrol station. Another problem is that the technology to store hydrogen safely is not mature enough.

Electric cars can also be considered zero emission cars but they require power from the electricity grid and the production of electricity does give off emissions. Fortunately power stations are starting to produce cleaner electricity and the “cleaner” they get the “cleaner” the electric cars will become. Electric cars are substantially less polluting than petrol or diesel vehicles and their engines are more efficient, meaning that electric vehicles require less energy to run.

Because of the technological hurdles with hydrogen most of the motor manufacturers have invested heavily in the development and production of electric vehicles so we are seeing electric powered vehicles on the roads before hydrogen. One of the challenges with electric vehicles are the batteries. The batteries are expensive and don’t keep their charge for very long. The Tesla Roadster can get up to 400km’s with a single charge but most other electric vehicles have a maximum reach of no more than 200km’s.

The batteries also take a long time to charge, up to 5 hours. Nissan are making great strides in the development of their electric vehicles and in my opinion, have overtaken Toyota as the leader in electric vehicle development. Nissan recently launched the Nissan Leaf. It’s a revolutionary vehicle that costs about as much as a similar sized petrol car. The Leaf will go up 200 km’s on a single charge and with it’s new quick charge technology the battery can be charged up to 80% of it’s capacity in lest than 30 minutes.

Notwithstanding the great technological advancements made with electric vehicles I believe that hydrogen will ultimately win the race. It does seem then that the vehicle manufacturers have placed their bets on the wrong solution. If they had invested in hydrogen from the beginning then we would have had solutions to these challenges already. Billions are being spent on electric vehicles and it could all be for naught in a similar vein to the Beta and VHS debacle. They will get it right in the end though. No doubt.

Marthinus Strydom

2 Comments

  1. Sir,
    I quite agree with you as regards the future of hydrogen, the more since it can be produced from clean energy as wind farms. I fear that a great majority of the public have not yet fully understood that hydrogen is not so much a fuel in itself, as a means to store energy. As for the problem of refuelling stations you mention, why could not hydrogen be stored under liquid form in special standardized high pressure cylinders, that could be provided by all petrol stations. In terms of investments there are fantastic opportunities in european companies like Air Liquide or Linde and I would not be too much surprised should large oil companies like Shell or Mobil become interested in a near future by the former.
    Sincerely yours,
    Jean-Bernard Brisset
    France

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