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Electric vs. Hydrogen – The Future of Green Cars Battle It Out

6 July 2010 28,104 views 4 Comments

Examining the Efficiency of Electric & Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles-

The petrol economy drove the last century, but human reality is demanding better options. Electric and hydrogen powered cars are looking like the working models for replacement of the much opposed petrol engine. Both types of car have very strong economic, as well as environmental, credentials. These are the technologies which are looking like they’ll transform the world, and everything about driving a car from panel beating to car insurance.

The Electric Car

Ironically, some of the first cars on the road in the early 1900s were electric cars; joystick-driven carriages. They were outclassed, out-mass produced and outsold by Henry Ford’s monsters. They’ve come back with a vengeance, much longer ranges and far better performance.

Electric vehicles have one thing strongly in their favor: they’re a known technological quantity. For manufacturers, the retooling process is easy for electric cars. The engine is one of the high cost/high resources production issues in petrol cars, so if anything, they’re looking at much cheaper production – saving billions.

Frames and loads are no issue for electric cars. The only heavy things in them are the batteries, and those are known factors, easily covered in design. That, of course, drastically improves performance, with better power/weight ratios.

The only real drawback has been recharge time, and even that’s looking like it’s in the process of being solved. An Australian university has come up with something that’s basically an upgraded fan belt, and like a fan belt, recharges batteries on the move.

The Hydrogen Car

Hydrogen is now considered the new wonder fuel, with a whole predicted hydrogen economy now existing in major economic think tanks around the world. The current record speed for a hydrogen car is 461 kmh, or 286 mph.

Some stumbling blocks for hydrogen cars have been identified in terms of tank weight, durability on the road, power ratios, fuel cell life (currently averaging around 6 months) and end unit cost, which is considerably higher than electric cars. That hasn’t stopped commercial development, however, and the cost of a new hydrogen car isn’t really too different from new petrol engine cars.

BMW has already created hydrogen car models (“Hydrogen 7″, pictured below), and Daimler and Hyundai are currently gearing up to go into production mode in the next few years. Honda is also in the development stages of upgrading its famous FCX car, and policymakers are looking at production models for 2020.

The distribution of hydrogen fuel filling stations is one of the typical commercial issues with hydrogen cars. Los Angeles currently has 16 hydrogen filling stations, but the number required to service the entire city would be in the thousands. Logistically, compared to just finding a 3 point plug, that’s a problem.

And the Winner Is… Maybe Both?

At this stage, it looks like the electric car is in the lead. The technology for hydrogen, however, is developing. In China, there’s even a hydrogen bicycle. It wouldn’t be fair to assume this race has been won yet. Manufacturers have even been talking about a hydrogen fuel cell powered electric car; and a clean, green, multi-source vehicle does make a lot of sense.

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  • Chris at CaFCP said:

    Fuel cell and battery electric vehicles are both important to meet our goals of energy independence and cleaner environment. Thanks for the objectivity.

    A few things to mention:
    1. Fuel cell durability is about 6 years in real-world vehicles, which is on target with Dept of Energy goals.
    2. Power ratio on the road is great.
    3. Audi, Damiler, GM, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Nissan, Toyota and VW all have fuel cell vehicles on the road. BMW was testing a hydrogen combustion verhicle. Daimler, GM, Honda, Hydunai-Kia and Toyota have annouced commercial release of vehicles in 2015.
    4. 40 stations in the Los Angeles area will put everyone about 3 minutes from fuel from any place in LA or Orange County.

    You can read the roll-out plan for fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen stations at http://www.cafcp.org/sites/files/FINALProgressReport.pdf

  • Dump trucks said:

    Hydrogen cars is good concept. Hydrogen fuel does not occur naturally on Earth and thus is not an energy source, but is an energy carrier.
    Many companies are working to develop technologies that might efficiently exploit the potential of hydrogen energy for mobile uses.

  • Anoop Abraham said:

    When people say that providing hydrogen filling stations will cost billions of dollars, I cannot properly understand the logic behind this. It is not as if the petrol stations were already in existence and the automobiles were adapted to run using these petrol stations, when the gasoline vehicles were starting to be produced and then mass-produced. As the number of vehicles increased business men realised the opportunity to provide a service and they started specialising in petroleum purification.

    When the need is realized definitely supporting infrastructure will follow. My advice would be for the oil conglomerates to convert their specialisation in synthesizing petroleum to isolating hydrogen. Otherwise one fine day the petroleum companies will wake up one fine day and realize they have no work to do.

    As I see it hydrogen cars would be a close progression from gasoline vehicles in terms of utilisation, economics & logistics. The world would only be shifting marginally rather than further burdening the already overloaded power grids that are already resorting to power cuts and other forms of power rationing.

  • Pickup trucks said:

    Yes the winner is both.
    But for me the main winner is hybrid.
    They are really very beneficial to the environment, hence I will always prefer to go for hybrid cars only.

    I agree, On the other hand by saving the fuel the electric cars are also doing the same job of helping the environment too.
    But the hybrids are of best choice for me.

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