Hybrids, Electric Cars and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology Explained

Hybrids, Electric Cars and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology Explained

The world of electric motoring is growing faster than anyone could possibly have predicted. Environmental consciousness is at an all time high and every industry is adapting to conform. Nowhere is this more evident than the automotive industry. Car manufacturers are acutely aware of their impact on the planet. CO2 emissions from our vehicles are one of the biggest contributors to global warming and climate change. They are also a huge drain on our natural, finite resources thanks to the fuel they consume.

Toyota hydrogen fuel cell

Car manufacturing simply could not continue in the same manner. CO2 emissions would soon hit a critical mass. We would eventually drain every last drop of oil and fuel from the planet. With that in mind, car companies began to look for alternatives. This was spurred on by a rapid change in public behaviour and attitudes. Green solutions were encouraged and, in many cases, demanded by drivers. In addition to that, governments and world powers began taking progressive action. They imposed CO2 limits and demanded better quality emissions from our automotive industries. They offer tax deductions and incentives for greener cars.

Electric cars quickly grew from a futuristic dream to a very necessary reality. Of course, not everyone welcomed this change. Speed obsessives and petrolheads around the world pushed back against this change. They argued that electric cars could never provide the speed, power or range of the traditional engine. At the time, they were right. However, over the years, car companies have unlocked the secrets of electric engines. Hybrid and electric cars are now amongst the most powerful on the planet.

As they become commonplace, many are still confused by the technology. What exactly are electric cars? How do they work? What are the differences between hybrid, electric, plugin and hydrogen fuel cell cars? What does the future hold for automotive engineering? Today we’re going to answer some of these confusing questions for you. Ready to get behind the technology? Let’s take a look.

Hybrid vehicles

Hybrid cars are the most common type of electric vehicles on our roads today. Quite simply they combine an electric motor and a traditional petrol or diesel engine. They are a ‘hybrid’ between the old and the new. They were first introduced to the mass market by Toyota with the legendary Prius. The electric motor is powered by a large battery and will produce a certain number of miles. The traditional combustion engine is there to support the electric motor. The combustion engine will recharge the electric battery when it dies, for example. The combustion engine may also take over entirely when the battery is flat.

The hybrids were the first to hit the roads because electric technology simply wasn’t powerful enough on its own. The battery couldn’t last long enough to provide practical driving. It was a compromise between a green future and practical driving. It is for this reason that many dismissed the potential power of electric cars. However, they did achieve their goal of significantly lowering emissions. They also required much fewer visits to the petrol pump! For this reason, they have become wildly popular. This is especially true in the company car and business leasing world. The company car experts at Listers Honda Leasing tell us that fuel economy has become very important to businesses. Lower emissions means lower taxes and cheaper running costs. The hybrid is a great step forward into the future. But it is not the perfect solution we need.

Fully electric vehicles

The next big leap will come with fully electric vehicles. Hybrid engines are the dominant technology because electric motors and batteries simply aren’t practical. The batteries required for a fully electric vehicle are huge, heavy and extremely expensive. The only alternative is a complex ‘lithium ion’ battery. They are lighter and more powerful. They hold the answers to a fully electric vehicle. Toyota and General Motors both agreed that this technology was ten years away from widespread use.

However, a new company, Tesla, has proved them wrong. With their landmark Model S, they have created a fully electric, practical vehicle. They have come from nowhere and built their own lithium ion batteries. It has changed the landscape. They have a long way to go, but they are paving the way for fully electric vehicles. Many other companies are now catching up. A fully electric vehicle will rely solely on the electric motor and its battery. It will be recharged at charging stations and plugged in at home. They also make use of regenerative energy. This means they generate and store electricity when braking.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars

Alongside all the talk of electric and hybrid cars, there is another technology on the horizon. In 2015, it will take its tentative first steps on the market. We are, of course, talking about hydrogen fuel cell technology. It has a volatile reputation behind it. Many commentators believe it truly is the future of driving. Others think it’s an unsustainable and useless technology. Again, Toyota are at the helm of this revolution. This year they will launch the first commercially available hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. It’s called the Mirai. It will be one of the most technologically advanced cars in the world.

Like the fully electric cars, these vehicles have nothing but an electric engine. However, hydrogen fuel cells are slightly different. To power it, you’ll fill the tank up with hydrogen (the most abundant element on the planet). A reaction will take place to split the hydrogen atom and generate electricity. This will then be fed to the motor, the waste emission is simply water. It’s clean and powerful technology. The only drawback here is the lack of infrastructure. In order to work on a large scale, we need a big investment in hydrogen stations. We also need to invest in the technology to harvest hydrogen from the air. Unfortunately, this is not a simple process. It requires passing electricity through water to extract hydrogen.

Which is the best?

Well, the jury is still out on which technology is the best. They are all fantastic solutions to a deep and difficult problem. We are making big strides in every aspect. Hybrid technology is now so powerful that we are building hybrid supercars. The fastest road car in the world has a hybrid engine! That’s how far we’ve come in ten years. However, the ultimate goal is to move away from fossil fuels entirely. With that in mind the fully electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells must be the future. As the technology improves, we’ll soon see which reigns supreme.