Did you know that 25 percent of fossil fuel ever consumed by human beings was in the last 10 years? Thanks to the 800 million cars on road today. This number is expected to rise to 2 billion in 2050. Today, a quarter of all carbon emission comes from cars and trucks. Imagine what would happen, if the number of vehicles reaches 2 billion in the future. The answer to this problem is quite obvious – reduce carbon footprint per vehicle. One of the significant solutions to reduce carbon footprint is by using renewable resources instead of petroleum to fuel vehicles.
Switching to renewable resources can be done in more than one way. Iceland has already adopted one of them – use of hydrogen fuel cells. Public transportation in Reykjavik consists of only hydrogen powered buses. Hydrogen fuel cells include a catalyst, which is instrumental in breaking up of hydrogen atoms into hydrogen ions, thereby creating free electrons. These free electrons are responsible for the flow of electricity. Hydrogen ions thus formed combine with oxygen in air to form water as a waste product. The obvious advantage is, the whole process is clean as the only waste product is water. However, they have a couple of disadvantages. Hydrogen is not freely available in nature; hence some amount of energy is spent in dissociating hydrogen from its compounds (energy needs to be spent to produce energy!!!). Moreover, since this process necessitates storage of hydrogen, it is risky considering that hydrogen is extremely inflammable. Using hydrogen fuel cells in vehicles would demand installation of hydrogen refueling stations, which underlines the risk of storing hydrogen. The above problems revoke the exploitation of hydrogen as an alternative to petroleum. Hence the need for considering other options as an alternative to petroleum.
Ethanol made from corn, looks like a good solution to some extent. However, production of ethanol from its raw products (mainly corn) also consumes a lot of energy. Some critics claim that they consume more energy than they produce during combustion (process of burning the fuel to generate energy). Scientists are also working on making lighter (but stronger) cars made out of materials like carbon composites. At the same time, research is being carried out to make more aerodynamic auto bodies. Lighter and more aerodynamic auto bodies would reduce the consumption of fuel by a large extent. This has already been proven by Boeing with the launch of their new dreamliner (787), which makes use of a carbon composite body to reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent. However, the manufacturing process of the auto body from this material is much more expensive than manufacturing it from steel/aluminum. Hence, vehicles made out of lighter materials do not seem to be a viable solution until there is a revolution in their manufacturing technology.
Issues like the ones mentioned above are responsible for the “need for electric cars”. Batteries used for storing electric charge make up the heart of any electric car. The foremost problem faced by the electric car industry today is twofold - batteries are not good enough to store electric charge to fuel the car for more than 200 miles and it takes a long time to charge them (around four hours to charge a Tesla Roadster). Hunt for the right battery technology is the key to success. Hence, revolution in the electric car industry lies in the hands of battery manufacturing companies. Recently, a battery manufacturing company called EEStor has announced that they are testing a technology that could charge batteries within thirty minutes. Chevrolet has also claimed that they are working on batteries that can be charged not just by power supply, but also by gasoline, ethanol and hydrogen fuel cells. This extra charging cabaility will give them an ability to sell cars (Chevy Volt) that have no range limit!! Most probably, with the invention of batteries that can charge sooner, gas station will gradually begin to be replaced by electric charging stations. How true could this be? Well, a survey of U.S. licensed drivers showed that 10 % of the drivers would consider purchasing a hybrid or an electric car. Where there are customers, there is a market. This could clearly be birth of electrically driven vehicles.