Fuel cells versus batteries: We need them both

Fuel cell cars and battery-powered vehicles might just be two peas of the same pod, and each might be equally important.

Fuel cells and batteries will electrify the future

The realities of oil dependence

Later this year, and through the next few years, a number of plug-in vehicles will finally be offered for sale. For many this means that the battery-powered car is the indisputable technology of the future, and that fuel cell vehicles should finally be put to death.

For many in the auto industry, as well as those studying the future of the auto industry, however, the future isn't nearly so clear.

Study after study – from automakers, governments and universities, etc. throughout the world – has consistently cited the need for significant battery breakthroughs in order for the cost-effectiveness of plug-in vehicles to result in anything more than niche status, and to have any real world, significant impact upon oil dependence.

Even if these breakthroughs are achieved, however, many researchers still conclude that pure battery powered vehicles might still have a limited, although significant, role in the future.

Last week, for instance, the FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) and Fuel Partnership—a research collaboration among the US Department of Energy, the US Council for Automotive Research, five major energy companies, and two electric utility companies advised the National Research Council that based on the science available, three key areas need to be focused upon as the path to reduced oil consumption.

1.) Improving current internal combustion engines with the increased use of biofuels.
2.) Using plug-in hybrids and battery-powered EVs to switch from petroleum to grid energy.
3.) Making hydrogen a major transportation fuel to be utilized by fuel cell vehicles.

Likewise, recently researchers from Electrochemical Energy Research Laboratory (EERL), General Motors Research & Development found that while “Li ion batteries provide a pathway for efficient use of renewable-sourced electricity in the transportation sector, it is possible that fundamental physical limitations may prevent pure Li-ion-based BEVs from ever delivering the freedom of providing long trips, with intermittent quick refills, that consumers currently receive from their cars.”

Additionally, the researchers also speculated that pure battery powered powertrains could forever be limited to small vehicles.

Inevitably, America is still on a several-decade long path to oil independence, and numerous breakthroughs across many technologies are still needed, at least based upon our current box of transportation. Unless we can think outside of the box, oil dependence and foreign oil dependence will continue to be just buzzwords for a very long time.


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