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Fuel gauge

If we are to believe all the recent motor manufacturer announcements, we’ll all be driving electric vehicles (EVs) in the coming years.

While it’s a fine notion and environmentally, from a clean air point of view, appears very sensible; is it achievable?

Let me put my cards on the table. I think it’s unlikely – certainly from a full electric, zero emissions point of view.

Let’s start with some of the practical things. If you live on a road where you don’t have a driveway, or you live in an apartment or block of flats, just how are you going to plug in? Hardly practical having cables draped all across the pavement, or from the 10th floor window! The cost and time required to provide a practical on-street charging infrastructure to service mass adoption of electric vehicles would be staggering in itself.

Current battery technology, even for Tesla, only provides a range of some 300 miles on a full charge. While this may be fine for those who just commute locally to work and back or make the odd trip to the shops, for the private hire and chauffeur industry this presents a number of limitations. Indeed, we regularly travel 300 miles or more on a single hire. If there are no re-charging facilities at the destination, or along the route, this could result in not only a stranded vehicle and driver but – worse still – a passenger too!

It wasn’t too long ago we were being told our electric grid was near capacity and blackouts in the future were likely. So how are we going to suddenly find all this additional capacity to charge all of these electric cars? And even if we do manage to find the capacity, are we merely moving emissions from exhaust fumes to the power stations? Are we really going to get cleaner air to breathe?

So if full electric vehicles aren’t practical for the masses, perhaps it will be hybrids. Using a small petrol engine to generate the electric and keep the batteries topped up as you go. This certainly overcomes the range anxiety and challenge of having to search for the nearest charging point. Not exactly zero emission though. Better, but not quite the answer.

Perhaps hydrogen fuel cells will be the answer. Manufacturers are, and have for some time been, developing this technology. The infrastructure is already in place, the fuel stations we all currently use will be able to dispense hydrogen, just like they do petrol and diesel today. So there is no range anxiety and the added advantage is emissions from a hydrogen fuel cell are H2o, pure water.

The down side, and there are always some, is the cost to currently produce hydrogen, an energy intensive process extracting it from water. Oh, and it’s rather flammable and explosive!

It would appear that the good old internal combustion engine is staying with us for a good while yet.

LandFlight director, Danny Matthews

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