What powers the car of tomorrow? Batteries or Hydrogen fuel cells? [Hint: Both]

November 17 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: Beyond   Rating: 2

Just a short post to clear up a common mistake made by the media on the future of electric cars:

We do not have to choose between ‘electric’ versus ‘hydrogen’ cars. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are electric vehicles. The only alternative to the combustion engine is an electric motor. The question is – what should power that electric motor? Batteries or fuel cells? Why not both?

Good News: Electric vehicles are coming!
The good news is that stories on electric vehicles are popping up all over the web. Bloggers and mainstream media outlets are covering announcements for production volumes of electric vehicles that are coming from every corner of the world. Sooner or later a leader will step up a confirm our plans to kill the combustion engine-’.

Bad news: People confuse electric motors for energy storage devices
The bad news is that while trying to describe ‘the future’ most bloggers and journalist fall back on merely describing a snapshot view of today. Then they extrapolate it forward assuming the past will dictate the future. They see battery powered electric cars and assume this is the future.

Why not?
Cars are not iPods, and batteries alone cannot carry the auto industry forward. While there is no doubt that the first generation of electric vehicles are going to be built around advanced lithium ion batteries, next generation electric vehicles (circa 2015-2025) are likely to integrate three different energy storage systems- batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.

So while bloggers and journalists often describe uncertainty about the direction of the auto industry by asking: Is the future car powered by a battery or fuel cell? – the answer is both.

Hydrogen stored as a solid, then converted in a fuel cell produces electricity.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric vehicles.
A ‘hydrogen economy’ is an economy driven by electricity. H2 is just the chemical storage system.

Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Editor, Garry Golden 6 minute Interview PRI’s nationally syndicated The Takeaway

Related posts on the future of electric vehicles- including:

Electric vehicle industry goes global around energy storage systems
Video Interview with Shai Agassi on disruptive business models for electric cars
Is Detroit asleep at the wheel?
The Good news? China is investing in electric cars, The Bad news? China is investing in electric cars
Is GM expecting China to extend its grid for electric cars?
France to spend millions on electric vehicles
Warren Buffet buys equity in China’s BYD
New hydrogen storage device lighter than lithium batteries
McKinsey believes China could lead world in electric vehicles
GM pick Korean battery maker over US startup A123 Systems
Hyundai to build fuel cell electric vehicle for 2012
US algae startups could transform China coal industry
France’s GDF invests in electric car infrastructure
Hawaii’s HEKO utility take big regulatory step for 21st Century Grid
Electric vehicle networks startup moves into Australia
Detroit to World, Nobody has killed the electric car
India’s Tata Motors will produce electric vehicle in 2009 for Europe!
A Futurist’s Guide to Cars of 2020-

Image: Ford Motor Company Hyseries chassis

Comment Thread (2 Responses)

  1. In thinking about the scenario where GM has to sell off it’s Chevy Volt technology because of bankruptcy or restructing (see my piece GM Volt Enthusiast Asks The Government To Turn the Bailout Up To Eleven-), maybe Apple >could be< the solution to bringing EV’s to market.

    Here’s how it could play out. Apple obtains the basic electronics, software, and drive train from GM. Then, they apply their product development process to producing an electric vehicle. The joy of iPods and Macs is both their wonderful industrial design as well as their “it fits me like a glove” usability.

    What if an electric vehicle >was< designed like an iPod? Apple would make decisions on what the user (driver/passenger) needed to do and what the vehicle or an outside system needed to do. The example: while every other mp3 player manufacturer spent time programming song management (change/update/delete) into their handheld devices, Apple did not. The result: an easier to use mp3 palyer. They put song management in iTunes because a computer is better tool for those tasks, as opposed to the small (or non existent) screen on an iPod.

    Imagine what Apple could do if they applied the same kind of user centered design to an EV. If history is a guide (and it may not be), they would only need 5% of the US automarket to be successful. But, if they designed their vehicle to 20 somethings, maybe that’s all they’d need.

    Posted by: joelg   November 18, 2008
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  2. Re: Joelg…

    Yes…! Sounds like you’ve started drafting a post in the Comment section! What would the car look like if Apple were in charge?!!

    Posted by: Garry Golden   November 19, 2008
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