Battery, Battery, Battery. Hybrid, Hybrid, Hybrid. Hydrogen.
Well, that’s a word we haven’t heard in a while! Of course, hydrogen has always been around, but the alternative to the “usual suspects” of the alternative energy clique (electric and hybrid-electric cars) has been modest with its time in the spotlight. That’s about to change. Aston Martin showed us that hydrogen could run on the infamous Nurburgring. Now new whispers hint that mass-market hydrogen cars could be hitting the road in the near future. Their entrance is going to stir up some healthy competition in the alternative energy sector. Good.
Hydrogen power has a big advantage over battery-powered cars: the storage tanks can be refilled very quickly. This would take care of the waiting game problem that currently plagues electric cars at charging stations. However, despite this benefit, hydrogen power still faces a major roadblock: in-car storage for the fuel cells is still an unanswered question. It was this problem of “storage” that pushed the alternative energy industry towards batteries in the first place. It seems we have come full circle — due to limits on battery range and their high cost, more and more people are giving hydrogen a second chance — and a bigger chunk of the R&D budget.
It’s been a long process, but BMW has created a 7-Series that burns hydrogen in a modified combustion engine. This allows the driver to switch the car to gasoline when the car runs out of hydrogen in its storage tanks. Essentially, BMW created a gasoline-hydrogen hybrid.
Audi is looking to go the electric-hydrogen route. They are prepping an A7 to run off of an electric motor that is powered by a fuel-cell system. The A7’s “exhaust gas” would be 100% water vapor.
The German government already seems to be on board with BMW and Audi’s hydrogen plans — they have already approved a plan to set up a national network of hydrogen “refill” stations (you can also recharge your battery). In short, Germany is banking on hydrogen’s success.
Toyota, Honda, and Nissan have dominated the hybrid niche and entrepreneurs have supercar-ed the “electric” vehicle category — the Germans are attempting to make up for lost garage space by establishing their territory in the hydrogen/fuel cell industry. And all the power to them.
If shown to be practical (a strong if), hydrogen technology could become profitable (businessmen/women, rejoice) and be a breakthrough in the alternative energy industry (greenies, rejoice). This would also benefit the consumer because increased competition within the alternative energy designers/manufacturers would lead to more research/development and better products for picky buyers.
As consumers, we love choices — especially between several good products. Some buyers aren’t feeling “wowed” by the current offerings in the electric and hybrid car lineup — many of these vehicles have steep price-tags and low battery ranges. Consumers want more freedom for less cash. Granted, the first hydrogen Audis and BMWs will be pricey, but time and better-perfected technology will eventually lower the cost (as seen in electric/hybrid technology). In the meantime however, the entrance of a new competitor, and the resultant “green arms race” between alternative energy technologies, could loosen up the industry — eventually resulting in several vehicles that meet the needs and price ranges of mass-market consumers. Lord knows we don’t need any more super-cars….