Climate Spectator asks the question: “Can Hydrogen Deliver?”

There has been much speculation over the past decade over what will replace fossil fuels (gasoline, diesel, natural gas) to power motor vehicles.  Right now electricity appears to be the most promising option (GM’s Chevy Volt and Nissan’s Leaf being the prime examples).  But some believe that by mid-century we may all be driving hydrogen powered vehicles.  Hydrogen is one of the cleanest of technologies. Unlike oil and natural gas, it doesn’t produce carbon dioxide (CO2) when it is burned – the only product is water vapour.

Toyota has announced plans to introduce hydrogen cars by 2015 and has started building stations for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in California.  Here is more on the Toyota FCHV.

In this piece Dr. Alan Finkel discusses the science behind hydrogen vehicles and the obstacles that must be overcome before the fuel cell could become a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine or ICE.  (The fuel cell gets its energy from hydrogen whereas the ICE gets its energy from gasoline.)

As he states:

…while there is an apparent advantage to hydrogen in energy-density terms, this apparent advantage is undermined by the cost and complexity of obtaining and distributing the hydrogen, and further negated by the poor operational efficiency.

Alas, as all economists and physicists know, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Making hydrogen from methane actually increases the emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere.  Making it via electrolysis uses more energy than the battery in an electric car.

Batteries have an inherent advantage in energy storage and are becoming more efficient every year.  Moreover, electric vehicle infrastructure is already beginning to be rolled out across the globe and this will give electric cars a large advantage over any alternative infrastructure.  Dr. Frankel estimates in Australia alone it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to build an infrastructure for storing and distributing hydrogen.

The added convenience of electricity is something that hydrogen cars do not offer. Electric cars can be easily topped up overnight, leaving home every morning with a full battery. Domestic home hydrogen refuelling systems would be expensive and impractical – not to mention that hydrogen is difficult to contain and highly explosive, and thus would introduce significant safety concerns.

So, hydrogen as a possible fuel for cars in the future? Only if you have money to burn and no interest in the efficient use of our resources. It makes far more sense to cut out the middle man and put the electricity directly into your car.

For more on innovative automotive technology check out the automotive links on this page.

 

 

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