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Electric Car vs.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars With air pollution secondary to emissions close to an all time high, public awareness has also spiked in recent years. The public at large has shown interest in doing their part to lower pollution levels and protect our environment. Many studies have suggested that, in countries such as the US, emissions caused by motor vehicle use are major contributors. Combine these facts with the still rising prices of gasoline and the quickly depleting levels of available natural gas, and consumers have begun to look for better ways to satisfy their transportation needs. By some polls, carpool rates are at an all time high, as are commutes by bus. Many car manufacturers have been looking to provide alternate means of power for price and environmentally conscious consumers. The two most widely researched alternative power schemes are electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell cars. Electric cars have been around since Professor Stratingh and his assistant Christopher Becker designed and built their first design in Holland in 1835. Around 1842, modifications were made and newer, more practical models put on the market by both an American and a Scotsman. By the late 1800s, electric vehicles were flourishing in both France and Great Britain, and in 1899 one electric vehicle even set the land speed record at 68 miles per hour. At this time, electric vehicles had competition from both steam-powered and gasoline-powered vehicles, but electric vehicles had much in their favor. Steam vehicles took as long as 30 minutes to build up pressure on a cold winter morning, and gasoline vehicles required the operator to crank start the engine. Gasoline was expensive to buy and difficult to find; steam engines required refilling about every 10-12 miles. The primitive gearing system on gasoline vehicles made them difficult to drive, and they were smelly and noisy as well. Electric vehicles were equipped with batteries that would allow them a range of just less than 20 miles, which was more than adequate for the time, since the only decent roads were close to town, and there was rarely occasion to travel farther than the car would go on a single charge. Electric vehicles were phased out largely by 1912 due to improvements in technology, allowing gasoline prices to drop drastically and become more readily available, as well as Henry Fords introduction of the mass produced, and thus inexpensive, gasoline-powered automobile. In 1920, an electric start gasoline automobile could sell new for as little as one-fourth the cost of an electric vehicle. Roads were beginning to open up from town to

town, and the relatively short range of electric vehicles coupled with their cost made them impractical to own. Fuel cells are no new item, either, however. German scientist Christian Friedrich Schonbien discovered the theory for fuel cells in 1838, and Welshman Sir William Robert Grove developed the first fuel cell in 1843. This technology saw very little use until the mid 1900s when research on fuel cells was taken up by a number of scientists. In 1959, NASA began utilizing fuel cells to power their space apparatus, and fuel cell technology is the basis for power on board the current space shuttles. One of the main benefits to hydrogen fuel cell technology is that it is not constrained by the maximum Carnot cycle efficiency as combustion engines are; that is, because fuel cells do not operate within a thermal cycle, the implications of the second law of thermodynamics are greatly decreased and efficiency of the fuel cell is far greater than the efficiency of a combustion engine. The more commonly lauded benefits of this technology include the fact that fuel cells have essentially no moving parts, and therefore are far more reliable and less likely to fail. In fact, the most advanced fuel cells utilized by NASA achieve 99.99% reliability in laboratory tests. One of the biggest disadvantages to a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle is the difficulty in refilling the hydrogen. Were these cars to become extremely popular, it would be possible to replace modern gas stations with hydrogen stations, but this would cost billions to do. As it is right now, hydrogen refills would be almost impossible to find outside of a few major cities. In recent years, electric cars have been coming back on the scene in force. There are many hybrid models that have been available for a few years, and this year the first fully electric cars were released to consumers. Modern fully electric vehicles have a lot going for them. They are considered Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV), since when they are running they give off no emissions. However, they are powered from the modern power grid, which gives off emissions. Modern electric vehicles have a range of about 250 miles. This is certainly better than the original 20-mile range, but is still only enough for the daily commute. The main disadvantage electric vehicles have is that a recharge is not as simple as stopping at a gas station and plugging in for five minutes. A full recharge can take anywhere from five to eight hours thats just fine if you are commuting, but not practical for a road trip. GM has proposed an answer to the distance difficulty by introducing the Volt an electric vehicle equipped with an

auxiliary motor designed to recharge the battery and extend the potential driving distance to as far as 600 miles. The auxiliary motor could be powered by gasoline, diesel, ethanol, or hydrogen. GM has announced the upcoming release of their first hydrogen fuel cell car, and it is expected to be on the common market as early as 2008. In fact, there are two Honda hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles being driven by common consumers right now; its concept vehicles were sold to interested buyers last year. Hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles are brand new on the scene even though the technology dates back to the mid 1800s. Until recently, it has never been believed practical for the common consumer to power anything by hydrogen fuel cell; large organizations such as militaries and NASA have been practically the sole users of this technology until very recently. Modern hydrogen fuel cell powered cars are capable of great distances on a single charge; GMs Sequel has proven itself able to drive 300 miles during public road tests in New York earlier this year. These cars can easily manage freeway speeds, when traffic permits, but these will not be the next road racers. With maximum speeds in the 85-mile per hour range, sport car enthusiasts will need to look elsewhere for the time being. However, for those interested in helping the environment and looking to save money on gas, fuel cell cars might be a good bet. Currently, designers of the vehicles are desperately looking for ways to bring the price down drastically. The production cost for a fuel cell car is approximately one million dollars, and this number will not drop very drastically just by mass-producing the cars. Obviously, a car that costs three quarters of a million dollars will not be purchased by the general public, so manufacturers are seeking a solution, and are optimistically predicting that they will be able to bring the price down to a reasonable figure before the cars go on sale to the general public. The two hydrogen fuel cell cars that Honda is currently leasing have already been turning many heads and attracting a lot of attention. Honda has received a large number of inquiries from potential purchasers of the cars, and is anticipating being able to sell a significant number of their vehicles as soon as they release the designs for production, but the company recognizes that even in a best case scenario, an age where fuel cell powered vehicles are common in America is still at least 10 years in the future. Still, many of the higher ups in the company feel that hydrogen fuel cell powered cars are the future of America, and the company has invested close to one billion dollars so far in research and

development, and plan to invest a considerable amount more within the next couple years. Electric vehicles that are already on the road have been getting many positive reviews; they effectively cut down on expense to the owner and are simple to maintain, but are still a hassle due to their long recharge times. However, many people feel confident that within the next 10 years, technology will advance allowing drastically quickened recharging, but for now many are happy to sacrifice some convenience for saved gas money and the knowledge that they are driving a Zero Emission Vehicle. Gasoline cars are about to be phased out; this is a fact. The two most likely candidates to replace them are hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles and electric vehicles. Both have many pros, as well as many cons, quite a few of which are simply due to the early stages they are in. If you are thinking of purchasing a next generation vehicle, you will have many choices within the next five years, and sooner or later, one of these two vehicle types is almost certain to be the next common car in America.