Friday, 10 December 2010

Electric Cars and Fuel Cells are the Future, BUT......

Recharging Electric Vehicle
There is no argument about the direction of the future of motor vehicles. All electric, Hybrid, Hydrogen Fuel cells etc. They are all being developed. But.

What are we going to do with the 806,000,000 petrol and diesel vehicles already out there? I mean firstly not everybody can go and buy an alternative vehicle right now or even in the medium term. In addition manufacturers and the raw materials markets could not cope either. So whats the compromise?

In practice the transition to alternative powered vehicles might take between 30-50 years. This is based on how a 'new' concept can become accepted as the 'conventional wisdom'. This occurs in all sorts of industries, from transport to construction. Reinforced concrete took 40 years to gain a place along side steel and brick. The diesel car took over 30 years in the UK to become 'accepted'. In addition technological advances along the way are also required.

And let's not forget that the fight will be for dominance in the alternative energy cars, will it be Hydrogen Fuel Cell, All Electric, Hybrids or what? Remember VHS and BetaMax, then Blu Ray and HD. Which technology will win this race and what is the attrition rate to be? Who out there will be left owning some of the 'losers' technology without the means to use it?

Therefore an intermediate step towards 'cleaner' technologies and fuels is needed. Now that diesel vehicles have become almost 'standard' we have to look at the disadvantages of diesel as a fuel. Irrespective of the relatively low CO2 emission, diesel has many other unpleasant problems, such as soots or 'black carbon'.

These products of incomplete combustion are rather bad, in fact some are considered carcinogenic. They also explain why your engine oil gets so dirty so quickly. Diesel is a 'heavy fuel' with a very complex structure. During combustion many differing compounds are created. This is why diesels are less suited in urban environments such as city centres. Its also why the diesel taxi is now falling out of favour.

In Hong Kong for example there are no diesel taxis at all. Being a very densely populated area, diesel exhaust emissions are becoming problematic. Not just human health either. The Sulphur compounds can accelerate the erosion of buildings when combined with rain.

Therefore Autogas Network has decided that this transition fuel system should be built around LPG - Liquefied Petroleum Gas. LPG or Autogas is a mixture of Butane and Propane gases that have been lightly compressed to be stored in a compact fuel tank as a liquid. LPG has the added advantage that it is extremely clean burning with so little deposits from combustion that your engine oil will remain clean much longer (up to 70,000 miles is not unknown).

Autogas Network LPG Converted 2010 Vauxhall
Not only is it much cleaner than diesel and so ideal for high mileage taxis in urban locations, it emits less than 99.9% less soot than a diesel cab. Furthermore the infrastructure is already in place. In Europe there are over 8 million LPG dual fuel cars with over 32,000 filling stations. In the UK alone there are 1,440 filling stations. So its not like the future or cars; where we need additional filling points and infrastructure.

LPG or Autogas is the ideal intermediate fuel, the ideal compromise for cleaner cheaper motoring for all those existing petrol vehicles out there or still to be built. Let's not forget that the current motor manufacturers are still making brand new cars and have spent a huge amount of money in setting up production lines. These cannot just be switched off and electric cars produced - it will take years.

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