Hydrogen and Fuel Cells vs. Other Gasoline and Electric Powered Vehicles

October 31, 2012

Hydrogen and fuel cells have been hailed as the future of automotive power. They’ll mean that we won’t depend on fossil fuels. Electric powered vehicles offer much the same thing, and like hydrogen and fuel cells will have zero emissions. How do they compare against each other, and will these challengers replace the traditional gasoline engine?

Emissions

Hydrogen and fuel cells emissions are zero. All that comes out of the exhaust pipe is water, which does no harm at all to the environment. Similarly, electric vehicles produce no emissions.

Gasoline, on the other hand, is a bad pollutant. The number of cars on the roads globally contributes heavily to global warming. As the number of vehicles increases, so does the problem. Removing a percentage of these cars would have a significant impact. Pollution and the dwindling stocks of fossil fuels have been major spurs for the development of alternative auto power.

Cost

To date there’s only one hydrogen fuel cell vehicle commercially available, the Honda FCX Clarity. Very few of these are on the roads. Even those are in a single area, Southern California, which is the only place to have hydrogen filling stations. It’s only available on a 3-year lease, costing $600 a month.

Electric cars are available, and more are coming on the market. Again, these are relatively expensive cars, with a high capital outlay. There are very, very few charging stations, even if authorities keep planning a network of them. Both hydrogen and electric vehicles are very cheap to run, much cheaper than gasoline or diesel. They’re very limited by range, however. Even the Clarity only has a range of about 250 miles, meaning it’s not effective for long trips.

Electric cars have an even smaller range, making them urban vehicles. Over time, the cost of operating hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles and electric vehicles is small, much lower than for gasoline. The initial cost of gas vehicles is a great deal lower, although the price of gas increases that cost over the life of the vehicle.

Mileage

Hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles promise excellent mileage. The only current example, the Clarity, gives 60 miles per kilogram of hydrogen under all conditions, which is excellent hydrogen mpg. With electric vehicles, much will depend on the size of the battery.

Hybrid vehicles do cut emissions, and offer vastly improved mileage over other gas vehicles, in the region of 45 miles to 50 miles per gallon. Gas vehicles are improving their mileage, especially among sub compacts, but they still have a great deal of pollution.

Noise

With virtually all gasoline vehicles, except perhaps the Rolls Royce, noise is a factor. The engine is quite loud. This isn’t a problem with hydrogen and fuel cells vehicles, nor with electric vehicles. Neither of those have the same moving parts. As the design of the engine is so radically different, the noise is removed. Although noise levels can be cut down in gas vehicles, they can never be completely eliminated. Some people, like those driving muscle cars, actually thrive on the noise.

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