Hydrogen cars: Are they the future of transportation?

With diesel and petrol coming under pressure - not just from demand, but also from governments looking to reduce harmful emissions - electric cars are increasingly looking like the future of motoring. (Photo: Reuters/Steve Marcus)

With diesel and petrol coming under pressure - not just from demand, but also from governments looking to reduce harmful emissions - electric cars are increasingly looking like the future of motoring. (Photo: Reuters/Steve Marcus)

Petrol and diesel cars have been with us in one form or another for roughly 100 years. Times change, and a more conscious society is looking for greener ways of getting from A to B, and this begs the question: what exactly is the future of transportation?

Full-on electric cars are with us today, having come a long way from where they started. Their range has increased, but there are still disadvantages. When you think of electric cars you think of charging stations, extension cords, load shedding and, well ... let’s face it: running out of power on the side of the road.

The main drawbacks are the slow charging times and high cost of purchase. BMW has come out with clever, quick-charging stations that have you on your way with an 80% charge in 30 minutes, but this is hardly the same as pulling into your local filling station.

Imagine a trip to Cape Town in the present electric car — it would take a couple of days. Remember when trips took so long? You might as well stop and grow some vegetables along the way.

But electric cars are the future, right? Right?

The electric car, I have no doubt, will improve even more, but in order to make electricity there is still a cost to the environment - and the environment is the reason why we are trying to go cleaner and greener. Electric cars today are like cutting down trees to print books to warn against the cutting down of trees.

Fact: we burn coal to make electricity.

Fact: nuclear power stations have undesirable byproducts.

So what is the answer? I believe the hydrogen fuel cell solution is what we should look to.

As the name suggests and without going into too much detail, it has a motor, a battery and a tank which is used to store the hydrogen. Both the battery and the fuel cell ultimately provide the power to drive the electric motor. The car has a very clever system to switch between the two.

ZERO Emissions you say?

The chief benefit of hydrogen cars is their emissions, or rather, the lack thereof.

The only byproduct from the chemical process to come out of this vehicle is water, and it’s so pure that one can drink it. Imagine THAT — saving the planet while driving to work.

I can fill up in three minutes and be on my way. When that’s finished I can fill up again, but what happens to the existing infrastructure?

I don’t own a hydrogen production facility

What we don’t consider is the fuel companies that have built vast infrastructure for fuel to be delivered the world over; do you think they are just going to give this up for the electric car? No.

Hydrogen, being the most abundant element in the universe, is always found attached to something, and the process to separate it is no more difficult than drilling a hole, pumping oil out of the ground, refining it, transporting it, storing it and selling it to me and you.

RIP #vvvrrrrooommmm?

Being powered by electric motors, maximum torque is available immediately. It’s like driving an automatic car — a very silent automatic car.

And this makes me sad. Petrol engines as we know them today make a really pleasant sound; hearing a motorbike come past at high RPM, the vrrrrrphaa of a Golf GTI as we have come to know it, with the fuel cell technology … that’s all gone.

The theatre of piston engines that powered the Spitfires of World War II and the top fuel dragsters at the local racetrack will be confined to the history books, but you know what, that’s okay.

We need to look towards tomorrow. The hydrogen car allows us to experience a brighter, cleaner future. Al Gore will be proud.