Technology – Electric Cars vs. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

7 05 2009

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To understand the debate between electric cars vs. hydrogen fuel cell cars, it is important to understand that both cars are eventually driven by electric motors. The difference comes in the way the energy is stored. In electric cars the energy is stored in batteries. In hydrogen fuel cell cars the energy is stored in the from of hydrogen gas which is passed through a fuel cell to convert it to electricity.

So essentially, the real debate is between batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. Which one is more effective? That question isn’t easily answered because many factors such as cost, capacity, safety, reliability, accessibility, etc. all affect that decision. Ten years ago, I thought the answer was clear. What I never could have foreseen, though, was the surge in battery technology that would be brought on by the cell-phone craze. It’s left me believing that batteries might become better at storing energy than hydrogen (they’re not there yet).

Each of the two technologies have something going for them. EVs are benefiting from the already existent electrical infrastructure. Car makers aren’t as hesitant to build them knowing that customers will have a way to fuel them. Hydrogen, on the other hand, is simply better at storing large amounts of energy (Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid FCHV gets 80 miles per kg of hydrogen and has a driving range over 500 miles.)

Each technology also has a huge obstacle to overcome: Hydrogen has almost no infrastructure. Battery developers can’t seem to produce a battery that has all the characteristics they are looking for: safe, reliable, light-weight, small, affordable, long-lasting, powerful, etc. Many batteries fulfill a number of these requirements, but none have swept the table.

I don’t know if one will win out over the other, but both have huge potential. Wouldn’t you love to be a part of either industry when its obstacles are finally overcome?

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