ELECTRIC POWER OR HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS: WHICH WILL BE THE FUEL SOURCE OF THE FUTURE – PART 2
The price of electric cars is already starting to fall, which is a significant factor in making them much more competitive than Hydrogen fuel cells, both in terms of the sale price and the operating costs.
The economies of scale principle comes into play here. This principle tells us that the more of an item to be mass-produced, the greater the savings are when the final product is manufactured. Every time the production levels are doubled, a cost-saving of twenty per cent is achieved in cell production, an impressive amount. The electric car market is now very advanced, and this shows in the comparable sales of Electric Vehicles versus Hydrogen Fuel Cells, these numbers millions as opposed to thousands.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells who is developing the technology?
Of the major car manufacturers Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda are already well advanced in the production of Hydrogen Fuel Cells, and the big players in the European market are similarly looking at bringing a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle to the market. Although, it will be a long time before they can achieve parity with Electric Vehicles and hybrid cars.
The initial outlays involved are vast, and research is still being undertaken to reduce further the associated costs of producing and storing hydrogen in cells. The is also that intangible factor of public perception. Although most of the driving public have heard of electrically powered cars, far fewer have heard of hydrogen-powered vehicles. The lack of brand recognition is another hurdle that the proselytisers of hydrogen as a fuel source will have to surmount. Once this lack of brand awareness is overcome, and the initial production costs are driven downwards, some predict that the Hydrogen Fuel Cells will begin to threaten the market dominance of electric cars within ten years.
Others observers of the developing green vehicles process believe that two factors will continue to hamper the development of Hydrogen Fuel Cells for the foreseeable future. These impediments to Hydrogen Fuel Cell uptake centre around the fact that batteries in Electric Vehicles have proven scalability (i.e. they keep getting cheaper) and the difficulty in getting hydrogen gas on to petrol forecourts.
The scalability of the hydrogen process will prove the key to answering this question. Only when the difficulty of mass hydrogen production is overcome can hydrogen be seen as a viable green fuel. One exciting development is the production of hydrogen as a by-product of renewable energy production. Analysts believe that as much more energy is produced by renewables, the spare capacity this might create could be turned to hydrogen production by electrolysis. However, this manufacturing process is currently not very efficient. It takes three times the amount of resources put into the comparable amount of energy produced by the hydrogen at the end of the process.
The resources needed to produce a battery for an electric car
There is no doubt that the production of lithium cells has led to a worrying level of environmental degradation in some countries where lithium is mined. These adverse effects have impacted the people involved in the process and the local ecology. Having said this, world bodies, governments, and private enterprises have all agreed to alleviate the social and ecological stresses attached to lithium extraction. As a result, it can be hoped that batteries will be cheaper to produce in the coming years and more friendly to the environment.
It is demonstrably true that electric cars have less associated environmental costs when compared to those powered by fossil fuels. These costs are not only in the production of the units but also in the long-term running of the vehicles – a figure of 30% less spent on maintenance and servicing is widely agreed. In addition, much work is being undertaken to develop cells that rely less on lithium or other rare metals. The batteries under development also play a part in making the charging process a lot faster, improving both their practicality and environmental credentials.
There we end our brief introduction to the exciting developments in the green car market. Will Hydrogen Fuel Cells one day surpass the already well-developed electric car market, or will they become the Betamax of fuel sources? Only time will tell.