Batteries are for losers, a hydrogen-solar-wind fuel system is the future of transportation
It seems like a reasonable conclusion that the move to get away from fossil fuels is in full swing .We are in actuality nowhere close, because the world consumes 95 million barrels per day and that number is growing. But most folks don’t seem interested in that kind of gobbledygook. It’s way easier to form opinions by letting the mainstream media torrent wash over us, telling us whatever the high bidders of media messaging want.
Right now, that torrent is telling us that electric vehicles and/or hybrids (which true enviro-snobs dismiss as some sort of inferior race) are the way of the future. Tesla made more headlines by taking advance orders for 400,000 Model 3s than any automotive launch in my lifetime, despite the fact that the number is pretty insignificant – the US alone purchased over 17 million cars and light trucks in 2015. The total number of electric vehicles was negligible, as it is most countries, despite massive government rebates.
The reason is that battery powered cars are a pain in the ass. They are a pain not just in local asses but global ones as well. Owning one means a lot of planning for trips, searching out ever more competitive charging stations, and relying on massive government incentives to make them economic to purchase. They make cars as obese, adding stress to wheels, suspensions and handling enthusiasts. Globally, battery production is a horrible business, requiring vast quantities of relatively rare materials that are as awful to process as the oil sands (actually much worse, but that largely happens on the other side of the world meaning it’s not as important). Disposing of them doubles the problem – where will all those huge battery packs from Tesla’s go once they are ditched? Batteries lose effectiveness over time, and a large fleet of EVs is going to leave an impressive pile of them.
Batteries have not kept pace with other technological advancements, not even close. True, lithium ion batteries are a big improvement over previous technologies, but are still extremely heavy, hard to produce, and really don’t do that great a job in the environmental sense. They go off like fireworks when there is an accident and a fire, as a recent Tesla crash demonstrated. They are a big improvement in electrical storage, but in order for green energy to really take center stage (that is, by making power from wind and solar truly useable), something better than battery storage is needed. Batteries are the weakest link and despite crackpot websites no one has managed a significant breakthrough that would truly revolutionize energy storage.
One energy storage solution however is on the horizon and it has the potential to blow away the standard EV model. That solution is hydrogen-powered fuel cells. These have been around for a while, but have made major strides recently. Toyota is now selling the Mirai in the US, a fully hydrogen powered car that has all the benefits of an electric car (great fuel economy, instant power from electric motors) without the big dumb batteries that weigh a ton and are environmental armageddon to build and dispose of. As an added benefit, the only discharge from a fuel-cell vehicle is water. No one can complain about that. Well I suppose someone will; no rational person could foresee the rise of the Kardashians either but some people out there eschew all intelligence to care about their antics so presumably the same lot would be offended by clean water emissions. But that is a segment of the population we all should ignore if at all possible.
All that is needed is infrastructure to store and distribute the hydrogen. While that isn’t cheap, neither is the infrastructure that would be required to power, say, a hundred million battery-powered vehicles. Civil wars would break out over charging stations alone. And 100 million is but a few years of global sales, so not a crazy number if EVs really took off.
The beauty of hydrogen power is that it is a fuel system that can truly capture the benefits of wind and solar power. These green installations are only marginally useful, and never will be truly useful, for battery powered vehicles because they only produce electricity when they feel like it, and have no known economical storage solution. Hydrogen, however, can be manufactured whenever the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, allowing that energy to be stored in the form of hydrogen fuel. If infrastructure can be built to fuel hydrogen cars and transport the stuff, the whole system will work beautifully.
Battery powered stuff alongside wind and solar generation is not a feasible solution to replace hundreds of millions of cars. It is a wildly impractical system without a revolution in energy storage. Hydrogen, however, is the perfect solution if some money can be allotted to building out the infrastructure.
And at the end of the day, that money would have to be spent on a battery/solar/wind model anyway. So if the money is going to be spent regardless, why not back the right horse?
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