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Future of Cars: Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Or Electric? 659

cartechboy writes: "Back in 2010, Toyota and Tesla teamed up to develop electric cars. That partnership gave us the RAV4 EV electric crossover, but it seems as though that will be the only vehicle we see from that deal. The partnership will soon expire and Toyota has no plans to renew it. Why? Because Toyota believes the future is in hydrogen fuel cell cars, not battery electric vehicles. We knew trouble was brewing when the RAV4 EV failed to set the world on fire when it came to the sales floor. Then Toyota and Honda announced plans to debut hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as early as next year. Add it all together and the writing was on the wall. Is Toyota right? Are hydrogen fuel cell cars the future, or is it missing the mark?"
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Future of Cars: Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Or Electric?

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  • Electric. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by edibobb ( 113989 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:03PM (#47001135) Homepage
    It's much simpler.
  • Diesel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rodrigoandrade ( 713371 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:05PM (#47001165)
    When you travel across the country and you don't know what kind of service station you'lll find along the way, diesel always wins. No alternative fuel even comes close to the reliability and availability of diesel engines, and that's not changing anytime soon.
  • Re:Electric. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:06PM (#47001173)

    Hard to top the energy density in a gallon of gas

  • Hydrogen. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:07PM (#47001191) Homepage Journal

    So many advantages to hydrogen. It automatically increases the fuel tax by leaking, and further by requiring active cooling to keep hydrogen contained. It's expensive to produce and transport, so it doesn't threaten oil companies with lower fuel costs. It's plentiful, so you can use tons of other fuels to separate water into hydrogen.

  • Re:Electric. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zeromous ( 668365 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:08PM (#47001205) Homepage

    Exactly Hydrogen requires wasted resources to create a new fuel cycle (good for capitalists I'm sure). Electricity is agnostic. It is simple (AC motor), and requires less 'special handling' and transport.

    Hands down straight up electricity...just that pesky problem of are our batteries good enough yet?

    I think so, but apparently Merrica needs 300+ mile range day to day.

  • Economics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:09PM (#47001217) Journal
    The reason the electric vehicles aren't taking of has a lot to do with price (although there is also a legitimate concern about range between charges). But the price is a major factor, especially in an economy where the middle class (the lion's share of all car purchases) continues to get squeezed every time we look the wrong way. Seriously, let's look at price -- even the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt (plug-in hybrid) are $40,000 vehicles. And electric vehicles go up from there -- up to the Tesla Roadster in the six figure range. The average American doesn't even spent $30,000 on a car, so the price range of these new vehicles is still in the realm of the rich for toys and games. And to be honest, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are going to be priced in that same $40,000 and up range as well, so we won't be seeing those in the mainstream anytime soon. Henry Ford had it right back in the early 20th century. If you want your product to be adopted in the mainstream, you need to pay your workers enough to afford the product to be worth owning. They haven't done that yet, and until they do, we won't be seeing electric of hydrogen fuel cells in mainstream life anytime soon.
  • by Radical Moderate ( 563286 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:26PM (#47001435)
    Yes, they're[plug ins] cleaner than hybrids, but they still depend on electricity ...produced by dirty fossil fuels... hydrogen fuel cells are, for now, the greenest of many options,

    Hydrogen has to be cracked from complex molecules using...wait for it...electricity, so no, fuel cells aren't any greener than plug-ins. I suppose one could argue about whether the manufacture of fuel cells causes less pollution than that of batteries, but I expect it's pretty much a wash. I think the economy and convenience of recharging at home trumps hydrogen's greater range and shorter refueling time, and eventually battery technology will narrow those gaps.
  • Framing the issue (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:38PM (#47001571)

    In the long run a gas tank is going to become cheaper than a battery array, but in the short run, electric cars are there already.

    So a hypothetical gas tank is hypothetically cheaper than an existing and very real battery? Curious argument you have there. How about we just plug in a hypothetical Mr. Fusion while we are at it? I frankly disagree with how you are framing the issue given the lack of cited evidence.

    Hydrogen is refillable. Hydrogen stations only needs electric and water.

    If you already are delivering the electricity, why not just put it into a battery and use it directly? (presuming the battery has sufficient energy density)

    Electric will always have the advantage of regenerative braking though.

    Electricity has a number of advantages. It is independent of the fuel source. Electricity can come from coal, oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind etc. Electricity also is compatible with other types of motors. You can have a gas-electric hybrid, a diesel-electric hybrid, a fuel-cell-electric hybrid, etc. No other energy source can do that. We do not have the technology to use hydrogen directly (requires pressure and/or cooling tech beyond current economic practicality) and there is no near term likely prospect for a practical hydrogen based fuel.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:39PM (#47001587) Homepage Journal

    Toyota made a decision that works within their existing car infrastructure. Think about it. The car will still have a fuel tank, and will still run an internal combustion engine.

    There will be no "range anxiety" and you won't have to worry about replacing the entire battery pack after 3000 charge cycles.

    They are going to have to start forcing gas stations to carry hydrogen as well, the way some places carry diesel and kerosene, but that's not *their* problem, is it?

    The advantage to hydrogen is that they can still continue to make cars "as is" -- hell, they can even make hybrids too, a Hydrogen Electric Prius is sure to be in the future, without changing much about their existing factories.

  • Re:Electric. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by radtea ( 464814 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:46PM (#47001669)

    Hands down straight up electricity...just that pesky problem of are our batteries good enough yet?

    Let's add some facts to the discussion...

    Electricity also involves losses in transmission and transformation.

    Battery charge/discharge is only ~85% efficient under moderately realistic conditions: []

    Electrolysis is reported to have efficiencies up to 80%: []

    Line losses for electricity are in the 10% or greater range (the figure for Canada is almost 40% due to the amount of power we get from relatively remote hydroelectric facilities). So electricity and hydrogen aren't too far off-base with respect to losses.

    The weird thing about hydrogen vs electricity is that while hydrogen's energy density is great per unit mass, it's volumetric energy density is terrible given any reasonable storage technology. So while Li-Ion batteries have 10% of the specific energy density of hydrogen, they have almost equal volumetric energy densities: []

    And it is worth noting that hydrogen's volumetric energy density is 20% that of petrol, so to get the same range you'll need a fuel tank that's five times larger. Advanced storage technologies can help, but not all that much.

    Hydrogen also suffers from handling issues (embrittlement) and is extremely explosive. Natural gas has a relatively narrow range of fuel-air mixtures (about +/-5% around the 50/50 mark) where it will go bang rather than just burn. Hydrogen goes bang from about 5% to 95% mixture.

    So while batteries have their issues, hydrogen is so clearly not a competitor that it's curious that Toyota is going for it. On the other hand: prediction is hard, especially with regard to the future.

    This is the great thing about capitalism: it encourages people to explore those avenues that look utterly wrong-headed to the rest of us, and sometimes... they are right, and we are wrong. No centrally planned economy of any kind has ever been able to figure out how to do that (nor yet to deal with the problem of corruption that is endemic in human societies of all kinds, including capitalist ones.)

  • Re:Electric. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @02:49PM (#47001719) Journal

    Yeah, but then you need a spouse, which is a pretty expensive proposition right there...

  • Re:Electric. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @03:03PM (#47001867)

    I would question the 15% efficiency number you provide, that may have been true once, but it has gotten better since then.

    Still, today I wouldn't expect it over 30%, small engines simply not being as efficient as large engines can be.

    That being said, cost is but one concern, ease of refueling is another, plus the cost to purchase in the first place.

    Once again, we come back to EV costing FAR more than ICE does. Fix that and I think most people will deal with the range issues.

    I know I'd be a buyer if the price were closer.

  • ...What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @03:07PM (#47001903)

    Okay, first off hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric. They just don't use a conventional battery.

    Second, hydrogen fuel cell cars are not remotely competitive. Batteries are better and they're terrible.

    Electric is just marginally competitive with gas and even then only in certain circumstances.

    Someone is boundless going to tell me something great about hydrogen... but the problem is that its logistically difficult to move around, it escapes from any vessel you put it in especially under pressure. And ultimately you have to get the gas by pouring electrical grid power into some sort of electrolysis machine. And where is the grid power coming from? About half of it is still coal. So... by all means... get your green car and accomplish nothing.

    We need fewer of these flash in the pan solutions and more ACTUAL solutions.

    We need municipal power storage. Something more reasonable then deep cycle batteries. There are some places that pump water from a reservoir to a higher one to store power and then run that water through a hydroelectric dam to recover it. So far the most scalable power storage system we know. But we don't have enough of those. We need to look at flow batteries.

    Once we're storing renewable energy electric cars will ACTUALLY have an impact on carbon emissions. Until then... irrelevant.

  • Combustion engines (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rising Ape ( 1620461 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @03:08PM (#47001913)

    There's still a lot of improvements that can be made to the good old internal combustion engine. Both batteries and fuel cells are much more expensive - they may come down (slowly), but the efficiency of combustion engines will keep going up, thus maintaining the gap.

  • Re:Electric. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @03:29PM (#47002157)

    I think you'd be surprised. In urban driving, some some typical numbers would be engines about 40% efficient in terms of extracting energy from fuel, which sounds pretty good on the surface. The problem is you lose another 17% to idling. Another 6% in the drive train. Another 2-3% in powering the accessories. And you lose about 6% of the energy in the fuel just from braking. An electric car doesn't have to idle. The drive train is massively simplified, reducing losses there. Accessories are directly powered without the losses of an alternator. And you can recoup some energy with regenerative breaking.

    Those numbers are for urban driving, they are slightly better for highway cruising but you have more losses inside the engine as RPMs increase, so the difference ends up being only a few percentage points. Obviously hybrids can address some of those issues as well, by getting rid of the idle, through regenerative braking, and evening out some of the power surges needed to accelerate.

  • Re:Electric. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @03:38PM (#47002253)

    All reasonable points...

    Offer the Chevy Volt for $20K and they could sell half a million of them a year...

    At $35K, it is a non-starter...

    It begins and ends there, all other arguments are really academic...

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"