Thursday, 16 April 2009

Government Back Wrong Electric Horse.

Well, I did say in my previous blog that if the government backed plug-in or Hybrid electric cars, that they'd be backing a loser and missing an opportunity to really push technology forward.

Well, here is the BBC's report on Gordon Brown's decision to back the wrong horse.

Here is a debate that Sky News had on the news. Some interesting points made, some really whacky statements in favour made too.

What it boils down to, is that hybrids aren't zero emissions or fossil-fuel-free vehicles and plug-in electric cars have significant disadvantages/issues to overcome.

Lets forget hybrids for now as they are most definately NOT zero-emissions vehicles. They still rely on fossil fuel for the engine. I'd forgive them a little bit if manufacturers used Diesel engines in hybrids: at least you could try and be carbon-neutral by using biofuel like rapeseed oil.

Oh and by the way, carbon-neutral isn't the same as zero-emissions. Carbon neutral is a con: basically the premise is the amount of carbon produced by burning its biofuel is absorbed by plants growing that will eventually become biofuel. The bad news is the energy used during processing used to create the fuel creates CO2 as well, which you never get back.

Anyway, back to the battery car: the dead end. Its a dead end for the reasons I stated in my earlier blog, in that there will always be a restriction on range and the charging process is fraught with complexity. A 300-mile range car will need a very high capacity battery, which will require several hundred amps to charge in an hour, let along the 5 minutes or so we take to fill up with fuel now. So, we either sit around for a few hours for every 300 miles driven, or we find some way of whacking several thousand amps into a battery to reduce charging times. Another option would be to replace the battery packs altogether, so you drive onto the garage forecourt into a bay and a robot changes the drained battery pack for a freshly charged one. Interesting concept, but who owns the batteries? And how will insurers react to a claim generated by a dodgy battery given a robot has inserted someone else's battery into your car, effectively modifying it?
Also, who compensates you for the electricity left in the battery if you change a partly-discharged one? Finally, what about people that don't have a drive to park their car on: how are they going to run a lead to their battery-powered car if its parked down the street. How will planners react to hundreds of charging stations springing up on streets, especially in preservation areas? Lots of pitfalls to overcome.

The real alternative for the future is hydrogen. The first benefit is that hydrogen could be made on the garage forecourt. Hook a hydrogen generator to the mains, there's no need for a hydrogen tanker to come calling. Refuelling with hydrogen takes a similar amount of time as current fuel filling times, so no need for a radical change in our driving style. Hydrogen can also be burned in converted internal combustion cars, to it's backwards compatible.







The Honda Clarity, far better than a GWhizz. Picture from here.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is already proven, its was used on the Apollo spacecraft in the sixites. Its been around for ages. Honda have the Clarity I mentioned in my other blog, which we could be making in Swindon if the government had enough forethought. Other manufacturers also have fuel cell cars in pre-production.

The most telling thing about the electric car debate, is that the current oil companies have their fingers firmly inserted into the hydrogen fuel camp. They are already geared up to distribute and supply high pressure gasses as fuel. It would take very little investment from them and very little encouragement from the government in the form of tax breaks to get hydrogen fuel infrastructure in place.

So whats stopping the government from investing the money in hydrogen fuel? Your guess is as good as mine. All I know for sure is its a very short-sighted and probably short-lived policy. To be honest the amount of money involved is peanuts campared to whats actually needed to get a plug-in infrastructure up and running, so whats the game? Probably a sop to the urban greens, in the hope that the green party don't steal votes from Labour in the EU elections which are only weeks away.

So just remember its politics, not environmentalism thats driving this policy.

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