With gas prices being so high, alternative fuel vehicles have become a popular topic. Two of the types of vehicles that tend to get a lot of press are the hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles and electric powered vehicles. Both are lauded as the way of the future
But which of these two options are really has the better chance of being the car your children drive.
Let’s look at hydrogen fuel cells first. When burned in an engine, the only emissions giving off is water, so a hydrogen powered vehicle is a zero emission vehicle. Hydrogen is also a better fuel than gasoline, it actually has the highest energy content per unit of weight of any known fuel.
Hydrogen is also a very abundant element. While current methods for making hydrogen are done by using fossil fuels, such as natural gas, coal, and oil, American wouldn’t be dependent on foreign oil anymore. Also, hydrogen can be extracted from water, and we all know there’s a lot of water on this planet.
However, hydrogen is not without its share of drawbacks. Probably the biggest problem right now is that it would require an entire new infrastructure. While gas stations could be outfitted with hydrogen fueling stations that would take years. Also, the technology to store hydrogen efficiently is still not ready for prime time.
Then there’s the electric car. Electric cars can also be considered zero emission vehicles since they give off no emission when running. However, electric cars do require power from the electric grid, which does give off emissions. As the electric grid gets cleaner, though, so do electric cars, and electric powered cars are substantially less polluting than gasoline powered cars due to the fact that power plants are far cleaner and more efficient than an internal combustion engine in a vehicle.
The technology for mainstream electric cars is also not quite ready for all the major manufacturers to stop making gasoline powered cars, but it’s much closer than hydrogen currently is. The challenge with electric cars right now is the batteries. The batteries are both expensive and current models, like the Tesla Roadster, have a range of only 250 miles – great for commuting, but not so good for road trips. The other problem is the length of time these vehicles take to charge. It’s not simply a matter stopping at your local power station and plugging in for five minutes and leaving. A typical charging cycle for current prototypes is 4-5 hours – again, fine if you’re commuting, but impossible for a road trip. While technology is being developed to make charging your vehicle as quick as quick as filling up with gas, it has a ways to go before it’s ready, just like hydrogen fuel cells.
Fleets of electric cars will certainly be hitting the roads sooner hydrogen fuel cell cars, but which one ultimately ends up being the vehicle of choice for American drivers remains to be seen as both have plenty of challenges to overcome before people will readily give up their cheap gas powered cars in favor of these alternatives.