Arno's EnergyIdeas (48)
Hybrid or electric drive, fuel cell or
Hydrogen engine - that is the question
Based on a survey from the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA)- Federal Motor Transport Authority, Flensburg, Germany exactly 22 .330 hybrid vehicles were registered at the beginning 2009 in Germany. A total of 41.321.171 cars are registered in Germany, of which 1.452 are powered with electric drive. This corresponds to 0.054 percent (hybrid), or 0.0035 per cent (electrical) of the total car stock in Germany. It is indeed still a long way to achieve the ambitious goal of the planned economy (former) German Federal Government: "... to have one million electric cars on the road by 2020..." (quote by the former Minister for Economic Affairs, Freiherr zu Guttenberg). The goal is legal: fuel savings and the avoidance of pollutant emissions. The road to get there may be pursued differently.
According to the definition of EU and UN a "hybrid vehicle" is one in which at least two energy converters and two built-in vehicle energy storages are available to drive the vehicle. Energy converters, for example, are electric, petrol or diesel engines. Energy storages are batteries or fuel tanks. There were also other combinations realized, such as the use of Stirling engines with hydraulic drive and pneumatic accumulator. However, the reality is: Only by installing electric motor(s) in a car with conventional internal combustion engine (ICE), you only change one dinosaur to just another dinosaur, but are not creating something really new.
Big and heavy black cars are hardly sold - even in the US
Photo: Arno A. Evers FAIR-PR
What is thus a hydrogen vehicle? Under the general understanding a hydrogen vehicle is one which stores hydrogen as a liquid or in a gaseous and deep cold state respectively. This fuel is then used, either in a fuel cell, to generate electricity, which in turn powers one or more electric motors to drive the drive train or directly at the wheels (Daimler, Honda) In other cases, the hydrogen is fueled into a modified combustion engine to ignite and burn in order to win the mechanical energy to drive (BMW, Ford). The advantage: the required capacity of the batteries (weight, size) is always smaller than with the pure e-vehicle. Sometimes, the phrase: "Hydrogen engine" appears in this context, especially in the media or from politicians. In this case, no one knows what is really meant.
For hybrid vehicles, there are different methods: parallel, then actuators
are acting simultaneously on the drive train, or serially, then only one
drive acts directly on the drive train, while others only provide the
power that transformed the directly-acting power. A distinction is also
mixed or hybrid power-split hybrid and micro-(BMW 1), mild (Honda Civic)
and full hybrid (Toyota Prius).
The Toyota Prius, since late 1997 on the market, with over 1 million cars
driving worldwide is
currently the most successful vehicle in its class. Since 2009 it is now
sold in its third generation model. Unlike pure electric cars, the Priuses
electric energy does not come from the electrical grid. The nickel-metal
hydride battery is charged by the onboard generator while driving from the
combustion engine and by recuperation, thus energy is recovered during
braking and deceleration, the batteries are loaded.
As you can imagine one thing is of utmost importance: The key is the
"smart handling" in the
domination of the power and energy management systems (hardware and
software) in or before and behind the power train in the vehicle. Many of
today's leading vehicle manufacturers
however, have spent, in my opinion, too much on developing and marketing
gadgets, such as automatic seat adjustment with position storage,
mechatronic braking systems, active roll stabilization or adaptive
cornering light. For the implementation of such subjects, much money, time
and even manpower of the world's automakers was invested incorrectly.
Resources for really important issues such as optimal lightweight decrease
of driving resistance or other measures to reduce energy and pollution
reduction would have been much more effective. However, this did not
happen from the side of the car industry. Or are we as consumer(s) at
fault in this case?
A major problem with all these different options is the sensible and
effective energy conversion. However, we should always consider the
production of pollutants in the process to make the fuel (petrol, diesel,
electricity or hydrogen). In vehicles electric motors, on the entire load
curve show an excellent efficiency (about 80 to 90%), while in internal
combustion engines at partial load the efficiency decreases very strongly
(about 20% gasoline, about 25% diesel). This is the reason, why correctly
dimensioned electric motors can work even without gear boxes in the
vehicles - a big weight savings advantage, which also reduces the
maintenance intervals. If the fuel consumption and pollutant emissions are
calculated honestly „well to wheel“ that means e.g. from the oil rig in
the Arabian Gulf to the wheel of your car, the efficiencies are getting
dramatically worse accordingly.
A consideration of the energy expended on a car over its life-time can
also be helpful. Electricity with its inefficient, costly and pollution
creating production process and distribution chain (from the coal power
plant transformed up and down again to the charging station) does not
really help us here ... Regenerative produced electricity should not be
fed in the high-voltage-grid only, but used "local" in a reasonable and
Especially, as it also is not yet clear where really powerful, lightweight
and durable batteries do
come from. It is also not clear, how, from what and where the generated
electricity or hydrogen
will be produced before it enters the tanks of our vehicles.
What to do? Maybe the demand regulates the unsatisfied offer in supply.
What we need are: First,
lighter vehicles without pointless addition units, secondly, a networked
traffic management, third, a fuel that is produced truly sustainable and
is locally used, at the place of production, fourth, consumers who are
willing to adapt their driving behavior and their consumption of
resources, last but not least, fifthly, an industry that understands this
and that is able to offer the products described above...
The former car industry here, the global players, will not likely be the
pioneers, they had their chances and opportunities to proof their
"greenness", not only with words or with ad campaigns, but through deeds
and good vehicle offers since the first oil crisis in the early
The politicians who indeed are responsible for the „frame work“ in green
legislation to save the environment, one can only call out: "Have courage
to make the right decisions and preserve them also sustainable. Do not let
yourself be influenced by lobbyists!"
With these, sustainable survival-important questions, the good old and
healthy common sense will have to be more important than "political
solutions" and will also be more important than sheer business interests.
PS 1 – I just read here in the U.S., what I would be delighted to add: The
French car maker Peugeot writes, in his own words in German
advertisements: "... with the launch 2010 of the new Peugeot i0n, a new
chapter in its history will be written." In ads, they offer e.g. zero-CO2
emissions, a top speed of 130 kph and a range of 130 km, thanks to a
lithium-ion battery?? (Question mark added by author). Also a lithium-ion
battery is heavy and must be moved. The promise of zero CO2 emission
should be questioned, in fact. Other car manufacturers referring to this
point, are mentioning in fairness the pollutants which are produced in
the production of the electricity to be loaded. Depending on the method of
calculating, it is coming quickly close to CO2 values that even today´s
internal combustion engines emit during operation. The vehicle should
approach the German market in 2010.
PS 2: I am currently in Palm Springs, CA, USA, where I will present a
poster "New Pathways to Commercialization of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells” at
the Fuel Cell seminar. More under this link:
https://www.hydrogenambassadors.com/meet-aae/fuelcellseminar2009/index.php. We will
report on it.
PS 3 - A literature recommendation:
"The way to a one-liter car" / „Der Weg zum Ein-Liter-Auto“ by Alexander
Dauensteiner, Springer-/Verlag, 2002, Germany, ISBN 3-540-42014-2
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