Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hydrogen power gets a kickstart

Hydrogen power gets a kickstart
This article from IOL talks about a Hydrogen Council that has been set up by major players in the auto and oil industry. As I see it, hydrogen fuel cells are just an attempt from the traditional car manufacturers to continue selling complex cars that will, like petrol and diesel engines, require regular maintenance and replacement of parts and fluids. It's also a way that oil companies can keep their petrol station networks relevant, dispensing hydrogen in place of petrol and diesel.
The council includes chief executives and chairmen from 13 major players in the energy and transport sectors, including BMW, Toyota, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, Shell, Total and Kawasaki, among others.
One of the attractions of an all electric car is the simplicity and lack of moving engine parts. Unlike a petrol or diesel vehicle there are very few parts that wear out and no fluids to replace or top up. Chevy are recommending that their new fully electric vehicle, the Bolt, only goes to the dealer for it's first maintenance check after the first 150,000km. A conventional internal combustion engined vehicle would most likely need at least 10 maintenance checks over the same period. In a hybrid or fuel cell car you are back to the same situation as a petrol or diesel engined car. The internal combustion engine part of the hybrid powertrain or the fuel cell are going to need more regular servicing than a pure electric powertrain, Thus, with such a vehicle you are missing out on the low maintenance cost of an all electric vehicle. It appears purely a ploy by car manufacturers to ensure their customers have to bring their cars back for regular, and expensive, servicing. Maintaining the stream of income they get for servicing internal combustion engined vehicles.

Another reason given for the need of hydrogen fuel cell cars, is the lack of range of a pure electric vehicle. With Tesla recently pushing the range on their Model S up to 335 miles and the more affordable Chevy Bolt getting 230 miles on a full charge, electric vehicles are matching what many internal combustion engined cars can achieve on a full tank of fuel. 
In Europe, where hydrogen is becoming more readily available, refuelling stations cost three times as much to build as normal petrol stations.
The oil companies are wanting fuel cells because it means they can install hydrogen pumps in their existing service stations, they'll also no doubt produce the hydrogen and like with petrol and diesel, they'll control the whole supply chain once again. In contrast a pure electric car doesn't need a service station or a pump, you just plug it into the electricity. Even if you disregard the dedicated charging points, rapidly sprouting up in many countries, you can literally charge an electric vehicle anywhere. You just need a plug socket.

A fuel cell and the tank to store the hydrogen is also going to take up more space in the vehicle. Another benefit with many new electric cars is the way they package the batteries on the floor and the motors between the wheels, leaving plenty of boot/trunk space as well as storage space under the bonnet or frunk as it's now being termed. With a fuel cell vehicle you now have another power unit to put somewhere as well as the tank to store the hydrogen. That space will come from the cabin and luggage space. Another worry is the explosive nature of hydrogen, especially when stored under very high pressure.

In an African context, hydrogen fuel cells are even more nonsensical. I can see cheap solar charging stations, that can charge an electric vehicle, popping up in even the most remote parts of the continent. Places where it would be impractical and uneconomical to put fuel cell pumps.

Fuel cell technology in a car is just creating a problem where one doesn't exist. It's unnecessarily making a vehicle more complicated than it needs to be without offering any obvious benefits. Fortunately the ever rapid advance in electric vehicle and battery technology and the consumers desire to choose the simplest and most practical option, will mean hydrogen fuel call cars will be remembered in the same way we remember Betamax.

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