" Why Batteries Not Hydrogen Fuel Cells Are The Future Of Private Motoring" – George Wallis

Wallis’ excellent paper attempts to show why cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells are not the immediate future of private motoring, and why batteries have an important and immediate part to play.

Note: (‘Nazi sharks etc.’ refers to a no doubt bad taste joke, made by James May during the recent BBC TV Top Gear show, the popular lads programme about cars: Jeremy Clarkson, of Top Gear has recently reviewed the Tesla electric / battery powered car in The Times On-Line)

The paper briefly examines the existing and possible future energy sources for vehicles, and tries to disentangle some of the commonly used definitions for proposed vehicles, and then examines the sustainable alternatives – and compatibilities – for road transport.

There are some very good examples of what current vehicles can do, and some calculations of the likely contribution need from nuclear or wind energy.

The paper concludes that electric mode vehicle use can shift transport in the UK away from oil towards sustainable low carbon solutions. It can be done quickly and inexpensively, with the technology we have right now and over a timescale of ten to twenty years. Moreover it does so by switching demand to a power source which does not sacrifice the comfort and real-world performance that we have come to expect from fossil fuel cars.

In the United States things look even better. Their proportional savings remain about the same as UK but they save upwards of 120 million tonnes of oil per year.

Looking up to and beyond the next couple of decades Wallis concludes that hydrogen is going to be a big part of the automotive future, one way or another – just not the immediate future, and none of us can afford to wait till then.




6 comments on “" Why Batteries Not Hydrogen Fuel Cells Are The Future Of Private Motoring" – George Wallis

  1. Excellent article in Wikipedia, covering why hydrogen cars are unlikely anytime soon (apart from the fact the hopeless George Bush championed them (cynics would say, well he would, because his chums in the oil industry know it will never happen)

    Can someone put a reference in Wikipedia back to this site?


    President Bush’s hydrogen car goal, in the opinion of some writers, is slipping away because “there are quicker, cleaner, safer and cheaper ways to reduce the tail-pipe emissions from cars and trucks that pollute the air and contribute to global warming.” According to physicist and former U.S. Department of Energy official Joseph Romm, “A hydrogen car is one of the least efficient, most expensive ways to reduce greenhouse gases.” Asked when hydrogen cars will be broadly available, Romm replied: “Not in our lifetime, and very possibly never.”[34] As an article published in the March/April 2007 issue of Technology Review argued,

    In the context of the overall energy economy, a car like the BMW Hydrogen 7 would proba­bly produce far more carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline-powered cars available today. And changing this calculation would take multiple breakthroughs–which study after study has predicted will take decades, if they arrive at all. In fact, the Hydrogen 7 and its hydrogen-fuel-cell cousins are, in many ways, simply flashy distractions produced by automakers who should be taking stronger immediate action to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions of their cars.[30]

    The Wall Street Journal reported that “Top executives from General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. Tuesday expressed doubts about the viability of hydrogen fuel cells for mass-market production in the near term and suggested their companies are now betting that electric cars will prove to be a better way to reduce fuel consumption and cut tailpipe emissions on a large scale.”[40] In addition, Ballard Power Systems, a leading developer of hydrogen vehicle technology, pulled out of the Hydrogen vehicle business in late 2007. Research Capital analyst Jon Hykawy concluded that Ballard saw the industry going nowhere and said: “In my view, the hydrogen car was never alive. The problem was never could you build a fuel cell that would consume hydrogen, produce electricity, and fit in a car. The problem was always, can you make hydrogen fuel at a price point that makes any sense to anybody. And the answer to that to date has been no.”[41]

    The Economist magazine in September 2008, quoted Robert Zubrin, the author of Energy Victory, as saying: “Hydrogen is ‘just about the worst possible vehicle fuel'”.[42] The magazine noted the retirement of Ballard from the industry and the withdrawal of California from earlier goals: “In March [2008] the California Air Resources Board, an agency of California’s state government and a bellwether for state governments across America, changed its requirement for the number of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to be built and sold in California between 2012 and 2014. The revised mandate allows manufacturers to comply with the rules by building more battery-electric cars instead of fuel-cell vehicles.”[42] The magazine also noted that most hydrogen is produced through steam reformation, which creates at least as much emission of carbon per mile as some of today’s gasoline cars. On the other hand, if the hydrogen could be produced using renewable energy, “it would surely be easier simply to use this energy to charge the batteries of all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.”[42]

  2. The problem is that we are still trying to continue with an “AS IS” approach.

    H2 from renewable energy has some advantages as it can be taken with you to locations where there is no electricity. It could also be used as an energy store so that any short loss of wind power etc could be overcome.

    But the big problem is “AS IS” approach in that we are still trying to pander to these 1.5m X 2.5m steel boxes that have taken over our towns and cities and our very person.

    Global Warming and Energy supply problems have given us a once in a life time opportunity to reduce our dependence on cars in our cities.

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