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.

How green is your prospective car purchase?

My view on the CO2 emissions tax is a little different to the industry doom and gloom. By becoming more “Green” aware when it comes to purchasing a car, we can actively be part of reducing our carbon impact on the earth. It just takes a little mindset change and a big commitment to change…in the words of Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

For those who don’t know what CO2 emissions tax is: new passenger vehicles will be taxed based on their certified CO2 emissions at R75 per g/km for each g/km above 120 g/km. This tax could add between R5 000 and R10 000 to the price tag of the average
new passenger vehicle.

So, how green is your prospective car?
Well when looking at how green your prospective purchase is read the product brochure or research over the Internet – there are so many sites to help you with this.

To give you a good idea a medium size 4×4 vehicle will emit approximately 270 grams of CO2 per km. A small passenger car that is “Green” will emit anything from 23 grams of CO2 per km. What you need to be looking at is anything below 120g/km – the lower the better!

Did you know that research indicates a close correlation between vehicle engine size, fuel efficiency, and CO2 emissions. In 2007 China became the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally, per capita. South Africa emits three times more carbon dioxide, and overall, emits more than the rest of Africa combined. Higher greenhouse levels have led to higher temperatures, or ‘global warming.

In South Africa, besides hybrid cars, there are a myriad of vehicles that are light on fuel and have a low CO2 footprint. These are also called “Green” cars and CO2 emissions are published on the product brochure. “Going Green” refers to an individual’s efforts to help preserve our planet by consciously reducing their carbon impact on the earth.

The automotive industry has been an abuser of the environment for too long and this needs to change. Scientists and politicians can’t solve this alone, but ordinary South Africans can take a stand to impact the environment positively.

Opting to drive a Green car or hybrid vehicle goes a long way towards doing this.

I believe the changes in the industry will be positive as the industry will be forced into making more innovative solutions. And the industry is making ground-breaking progress. Look at Tesla Motors in California which has been producing high-performance electric sports cars to fill the gap for a ‘Green’ sports cars. The industry is being driven to release ‘greener’ cars utilising alternative fuel sources and we will continue to see these being launched in the global market.

But if you are purchasing a 4×4 or bakkie in South Africa there is no good news and the extra price tag as a result of CO2 tax will have to be paid! Let’s hope the industry is working on a low CO2 emission 4×4….