Now that the hazardous effects of pollution attributed to gasoline-powered cars have become more than obvious, we are left with no option but to opt for alternative technology which boasts of being efficient and environment friendly. Of the numerous options put forth, the ones that seem most promising are electric cars, which are powered by electricity, and hydrogen cars, which use hydrogen as its on-board fuel. So which is better bet of these two? Both being relatively new, it is difficult to say.
Basically, an electric car is a battery-powered car, which is propelled by an electric motor. In such cars, electric batteries are used to power the transmission, which, in turn, powers the wheels and facilitates propulsion. Even though we refer to it as a new technology, electric cars actually made their debut way back in the 19th century. However, the advent of internal combustion engine technology, which resulted in mass production of gasoline cars towards the end of 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, resulted in their decline.
Come 21st century, these cars have made a comeback; this time as a need of the hour with pollution eating into the environment. Manufacturers argue that the electric cars in production today are not just environment friendly, but also very efficient. They seem to be more than confident that there is no way that gasoline cars can oust the electric cars this time around.
While electric cars resort to batteries to power the electric motor, hydrogen cars―as their name suggests―resort to hydrogen for the same. The chemical energy of hydrogen is transformed into mechanical energy either by burning it in an internal combustion engine, like gasoline is burned in gasoline-powered cars, or by reacting it with hydrogen in fuel cells. In fact, hydrogen fuel cells-powered cars are more popular than their internal combustion engine counterparts.
Even though hydrogen doesn't occur naturally on the planet, it can be easily obtained from a wide range of non-renewable sources (such as methane and other fossil fuels) and renewable sources (such as wind and solar energy), which cannot be used directly in the vehicle. As promising as it seems, the technology has been subjected to some criticism of late with experts suggesting that the use of these cars is likely to produce more carbon dioxide than what gasoline cars produce.
Electric Cars Vs. Hydrogen Cars
Coming straight to the point, hydrogen has the highest energy content per unit of weight among various fuels, which makes it a lot more efficient than gasoline or electricity, and gives hydrogen cars an edge in terms of fuel efficiency. Even though we are dependent on hydrogen produced by burning fossil fuels as of today, the fact that it can be produced from renewable sources of energy and water also works in its favor. Electric cars, on the other hand, have a definite advantage over hydrogen fuel-based cars as the basic infrastructure for their use is already in place.
More importantly, you don't just have to depend on public charging stations, but also get the option of charging your car at home. (We are a little skeptical about the former option with charging time stipulated to be somewhere between 4 - 5 hours.) Charging at home also helps electric cars do away with the allegation that they will gobble electricity as most of the people would charge their vehicles at night when electricity use is at its minimal.
Alongside these potential benefits of electric and hydrogen cars, there also exist drawbacks, like heavy price and limited infrastructure, which may make you think twice before opting for them. In case of hydrogen fuel cells-powered cars, the infrastructure, which is still in the developmental stage, is probably the biggest roadblock. It will take some time to replace the existing gasoline fuel infrastructure with all new hydrogen fuel infrastructure, which will entirely depend on how seriously people take the option of switching.
Similarly, the technology required to store liquid hydrogen on board is yet to be developed to its potential. In case of electric cars, most of the problems revolve around the batteries used in them. These lithium-ion based batteries are quite expensive, which, in turn, results in a significant rise in the production cost of these cars. End result, electric cars are a lot more expensive as compared to their hydrogen counterparts. At the same time, the fact that recharging these batteries can take some time, makes them unsuitable for long journeys.
Even though neither of the two produce any pollution at the tailpipe―owing to which they are referred to as Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs), the production of fuel which is used in them does have the tendency to pollute the environment. Electric cars are powered by electricity, which is produced at power plants by burning fossil fuels. Similarly, hydrogen doesn't occur naturally, but has to be produced from non-renewable fossil fuels.
Both require electricity, and if we continue to be dependent on fossil fuels to produce electricity then there is no point in using these 'green' cars. In order to counter this, we will have to resort to alternative sources of power to generate electricity and eventually use it to produce the fuel required to power electric and hydrogen cars.
With all the bigwigs of the automobile industry entering the arena, it would be least surprising to see new developments in these cars some time soon. We can just hope that these developments will add to their efficiency, minus their drawbacks, and help us decide which is better among the two.