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Are Alternative Fuel Technologies Well Positioned to Take Over?

There’s been no shortage of news coverage lately with regards to the next generation of technology that will power our cars. Between automotive companies, governments, community groups, and independent bodies, it appears the days of petrol and diesel powered cars could be numbered. But just how well equipped are the alternatives?

Among the manufacturers: Mercedes-Benz have recently announced plans to release a 500km, five minute recharge electric vehicle within the next five years; Volvo plan 1,000,000 electric vehicles before 2025; Volkswagen envisage 30 of their own electric vehicle variants on the roads across the next decade; and Toyota are targeting hydrogen power (consistent with the Australian government). Crucially however, manufacturers are not alone – as well as an increasing uptake among motorists, European countries like the Netherlands and Norway have led the way in committing to banish the future sale of petrol and diesel cars.

forbes.com hydrogen car

Source: Forbes.com

In theory, the premise of hydrogen cars sound fantastic – a combination of resources that are readily available, with less degradation to the environment; a fuel that lasts as long as current offerings; and delivered in a way (by pump) that is familiar to every motorist on the road. However, to produce such copious amounts of hydrogen, it would be remiss to think that the process (be it, electrolysis or steam methane reforming) does not also create a burden on the wider environment – for instance, heavy infrastructure and transport needs, or the creation of carbon dioxide (respectively). Even the portable solutions being touted are limited in their ability to generate sufficient fuel for required purposes.

Similarly, electric vehicles are also a simple permutation – charging a car’s battery by way of infrastructure that offers a renewable source of energy. To date, the technology has been inhibited by a shortage of public infrastructure (on a private level, it is accessible), as well as inherent limits with the batteries of such vehicles – which often restrict drivers to a lower driving distance, and only after a lengthy period of time charging. Also, it goes without saying that such batteries require inputs, namely lithium, which involves a refining and manufacturing process.

What you’ll note among the plans from Mercedes-Benz mentioned earlier, as well as the latest electric vehicles from Tesla, is that there is a solution in the works to address the major shortcoming regarding vehicle range. But as with any technological development, it’s likely this will take time to bed down, and even then, we’ll continue to see incremental developments as we have with current fuel technologies.

Tesla charger

The US has been one market experiencing phenomenal growth in the sales, and infrastructure development, for electric vehicles – particularly as Tesla offers affordable vehicle prices and charging costs continue to decrease. Similarly, European markets are among those with the highest uptake of electric vehicles, alongside China and Japan. With this in mind, what becomes evident is that the countries with either the financial resources (e.g. Nordic countries), or those with sheer population (to leverage economies of scale), are the frontrunners in introducing such initiatives.

While the Australian government might have plans for alternative fuel technology to head in one direction with hydrogen, it would seem most of the world sees things a little differently. And in much the way we’ve become accustom to charging our phones daily, it might not be too long before we’re doing the same with our vehicles.

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