For a long time now, manufacturers of vehicles have been championing the Petrol/electric hybrid car as the car of the future. Toyota, in particular, were an early adopter of this technology with a range that today incorporates a hybrid for every occasion from the diminutive Yaris right up to the Lexus LS luxury saloon. These car companies will proudly promote the emissions stats and mpg efficiency of their vehicles from the rooftops. But is this the whole story? And are the hybrids as ecologically sound as the manufacturers would have you believe?
The trouble is that, at present, the motor industry operates a “shades of grey” view of the internal combustion engine. Petrol engines are largely bad unless they have a turbo and assorted emissions appendages to restrain the Co2 output. Diesels are marginally better due to naturally lower Co2 levels but emit more Nitrogen which is also now being monitored and restricted where possible. This leaves Hybrids and electric cars balanced on the top with high mpg and low vehicle Co2 output. However, this low emission figure completely fails to take into consideration the harmful gases released when building the vehicle itself but also, more importantly, when generating the electricity to recharge those plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars. Unfortunately, plentiful, large scale electricity doesn’t grow on trees.
So what is the solution? Honda feels that is the Hydrogen Fuel Cell. Without getting massively technical here, Honda’s system utilises a chemical reaction which happens when the hydrogen in the fuel cell meets the oxygen feed into the cell. This reaction is converted to electricity which drives the car. The vehicle emissions are based on the chemical make up of the fuels used which ultimately mean that all Honda’s car will emit is H20. Or water to you and I.
However, this technology comes with a green price to pay as well. Refining Hydrogen to a level whereby it can be used as a fuel is an emission heavy business. Arguably, it is as damaging to the environment to refine this fuel as it is to run and fuel a conventional petrol powered vehicle for the same length of time.
Then we come to a more practical issue. Cost. In 2005, some industry experts put Honda’s vehicle at a retail price of $1 million. The FCX Clarity launched in 2008 and was available to lease only to a select few Southern Californian residents. It was charged out at $600 per month with an estimated retail price of at leaset $150,000. And the new FCX which will be launched in 2015 is unlikely to see a massive drop in price. Experts suggest that we won’t see a good value Fuel Cell vehicle until at least 2020.
So, it looks like the true answer to our dependence on fossil fuels is still a good few years away yet. In the meantime, hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles are the best value and best performing alternatives to petrol and diesel powered vehicles.