Mustafa Zirapury I March 11th, 2021
Reading time: 8-10 mins
On almost every news outlet over the past few years you probably have heard something along the lines “electric cars are the future”. However, are electric cars really the “future” of automotive transportation? What if there was a different type of fuel source that could be used to power cars? What if this resource is the most abundant element in the universe? Sounds crazy, right? Nevertheless, there are some cars and companies pioneering in this field of cars, and these cars are hydrogen-powered cars. Now the real question is, if hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, why don't we hear headlines along the lines of “hydrogen-powered cars are the future”? To dig deeper into that question we must first understand how cars work, are powered, and are produced.
The way electric cars actually work is quite simple. Imagine a remote control car; it gets its power from batteries located inside of the car. Once these batteries are drained, they need to either be charged or replaced. This is the general idea of how electric cars work, but on a much larger scale. Electric cars are filled with thousands of lithium ion batteries which power the car; these batteries then need to be recharged once they run out of charge. Electric cars run on individually powered motors, with a maximum of four motors for a four-wheel powered automobile. The biggest benefits of electric cars are that they are cheaper in the long run, since using energy is cheaper than refueling your car. Additionally, because electricity moves at an extremely fast rate of acceleration, electric cars tend to be much quicker than those of gasoline cars. The drawbacks? They still cost quite a bit more than your average car. The range on these cars are improving, but are still for the most part quite a bit lower than gasoline cars. And the biggest drawback of them all is recharging; even with the latest technology electric cars take a minimum of 45 minutes to charge up completely. However, the charge time isn’t even the worst part; it is the ability to be able to charge. The charging network in almost all of the world is still very unreliable and inconsistent, and the car may make it to the charging port. However, because of software glitches, it may not be even able to charge. However, even with these issues it seems like electric cars are the future. Electric car sales have been skyrocketing over the past few years; from the years 2019-2020, electric cars had an increase in sales of 40%.
Now, let's dive deep into hydrogen-powered cars. Hydrogen-powered cars are a little bit more complicated than electric cars. They contain a hydrogen fuel cell in which the hydrogen that the car is filled with is converted to electricity. This electricity is then transferred into the motors of the car which power the car to go forward. The main reason hydrogen-powered cars seem more feasible than electric cars are because they can be easily refueled. Hydrogen cars are almost refueled the same way that normal gasoline cars are. You go to the station, open a lid, and fill the tank using a nozzle. Another upside of hydrogen cars is the fact that the only thing emitted from these cars is pure water vapor, which makes these cars extremely environmentally friendly. However, these cars also have a few major drawbacks. First of all, they are still expensive, and prices of these cars are yet to come down. Another drawback is that hydrogen-powered cars are not that efficient. The process of getting pure hydrogen is extremely inefficient energy-wise. If you were to start with 100 watts of energy to start off with, the total amount of energy that ends up being used by the car is only 38 watts. For electric cars, out of the 100 watts, around 80 watts are used in the end. This makes electric cars much more efficient in using energy. This is the main reason why hydrogen cars have not taken up a major part of the market. At the end of 2019, there were around 7.1 million electric cars on the road, and in that same year, there were only around 2000 hydrogen cars on the road.
So what will the future of cars be? Many experts say that there is no clear cut answer; it is not only hydrogen cars or electric cars, but a hybrid of both. Scientists believe that both hydrogen and electric cars will become more and more efficient in the future. With the major leaps being made in battery-charging technology, it is only a matter of time until the time to charge will go down. With more efficient batteries and motors the ranges of these cars will improve over time. For hydrogen cars, the main problem is that they are too inefficient with the energy they use. Nonetheless, there are many breakthroughs in making this energy more efficient. The first one is the use of renewable energy to extract hydrogen from the environment. Both types of cars are making bigger and bigger gains every year and are becoming more and more prominent in the car industry. It may only be a few more years until gasoline cars are obsolete, and these new and more environmentally friendly cars will dominate the roads.