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What if it doesn't happen as Elon thinks?

So, Lexus is now supposed to be building hybrid supercar that has 400HP and electric drive in the rear axle. (http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20130813-toyota-teases-hybrid-r)

So one after the other, established manufacturers seem to be making a beeline for the hybrid bandwagon.

What if, the public is just happy with half an electric car? What if they just don't care for the full electric feature? We know there are a lot of people who don't care about the environmental aspects, judging by the number of posters who jump to say AGW is not real ( some of those DO admit to pollution caused, though ).

So it's performance. Well, these new breed of hybrids offer the starting power and torque of the electric and then fall back to the warm complexity and dirtiness of the gasoline drivetrain that most of the other automakers find comfortable and cozy.

Imagine your nouveau riche neighbor showing his new BMW 400 horse sedan which can go 100 miles on pure electric. "Oh, how far can you go in your Tesla? 300? Me too, but I figured 98% it will be electric, in the city. On those long journeys, dude, I can fill up on gas ANY damn place I want to. I don't care if its gas during those times!" He says with a smug smile.

Is this going to be the future? Is tesla going to be the lone ranger?

In my opinion, Tesla has started something that other manufacturers will follow suit as long as Tesla keeps up with their game and people continue to buy it. Other manufacturers are not going to fully jump in the water until they see how water is. In other words, they are too scared right now on how it's going to affect their bottom line. Lastly, they don't care if they're late comers to the party. They are in the hopes their brand recognition is going to help them catch up with what they have lost in the beginning. The funny thing, all of the them are putting a boat load of money into R&D. What Tesla has done for the industry is speed up the development of better and more efficient batteries and ways of charging them quicker (and maybe making it more main stream by having them all over the place like gas stations). However, the most important thing that Tesla has done is given the idea to the masses that there is an alternative fuel vehicle that is possible instead of using fossil fuel.

@Redshift: +1, battery swap combined with large batteries will be useful for exactly those "demographics" that will have difficulties charging at home. Maybe even a valid business case for non-rechargeable aluminum-air batteries.

@pebell

A few additional facts to consider. The Model S performance can put out about 310 kW. Now a fuel cell is priced per kW today in the range of $3500 - $5000 per kW. So a fuel cell that could put out 310 kW would be priced in the range of $1-1.5 million.

Now DOE says if you scale the latest lab developments to about 500,000 annual units you can get the cost down to about $47 per kw or about $15k for the above mentioned fuel cell. However numerous problems still remain not the least of which is limited lifespan of the fuel cell to about 75,000 miles(current estimate) with 10% power degradation during its service lifetime.

Now let's turn our attention to the fuel cost. Given the high cost of transporting liquid hydrogen, most schemes involve reforming natural gas at the hydrogen station to produce the hydrogen. With today's relatively low natural gas price this works out to about 3 bucks per kg of hydrogen or 3 dollars a gallon of gasoline equivalent. However given that the US has decided to export its nat gas then this would mean it is about to import the world price for nat gas which is much more then the current Henry Hub price. This would certainly improve the prospect for electrolysed hydrogen, as renewable power sources would then become very competitive.

Now if we consider electrolysed hydrogen, an electrolyser makes hydrogen at just under 70% efficiency while a Tesla charges at about 85% efficiency. An electric induction motor on the other hand runs at about 88% net efficiency while a fuel cell today has about 60% efficiency. So the bottom line is that an electric motor/battery combination is nearly twice as efficient overall as the combination of electrolysed hydrogen/fuel cell.

To hit all the DOE price targets requires massive scale and massive investment and even with that, the technology at present is still not sufficient. EV tech with incremental improvements/investments will be able to meet the needs of most people over the coming decade.

So in summary, I would say that hydrogen fuel cell auto tech is DOA and if someone tells you that hydrogen fuel cells are the way of the future you may want to ask them what are they smoking?

@pebell

BTW, I think you should reconsider what the dominant residence type is in America. The single family home still makes up about 60% of all housing stock. Furthermore only 8% of US households rely on street parking according to the US Dept. Of Housing and Urban Development and 40 % of these households have no car so less then 5% have to circle the block looking for a parking spot!

@ pebell,

Using your example of someone living in a 12th floor apartment with no garage to park in, unfortunately I don't agree that is how the majority of people live in the US. If we are going along with this example, it's likely that most inner city dwellers do not even own vehicles because they don't need to. None of my friends who live in San Francisco own cars - not because they can't afford them, but because they don't need them.

The other aspect is that EVs may not currently be for everyone. But just because you can't address the entire population doesn't mean you shouldn't start somewhere. That's what Tesla has done. Nobody is in a position to market a superior technology to EV. Now that EVs are here to stay, in my opinion, the next few years will bring many wonderful and amazing improvements in battery technology.

This is just the beginning.

Maybe some of the reason Elon calls them "Fool Cells" is safety. Find a nice video on YouTube of a hydrogen explosion and fire and refer your Fool-ish challengers to it.

According to this source, so far in 2013, pure electric vehicles are outselling plug-in hybrids (PHEV) such as the Chevy Volt and plugin Prius.

They are not outselling all hybrids of course, just the plug-in / range-extended types. I don't think that's a trend that is going to be reversed any time soon.

@AR: I was under the impression that this thread was not about the current status of the EV, or even the Model S, but about Elon's dream to bring about the end of the ICE age (pun intented). His vision is to do that with battery powered cars. As I took it, the OP wondered if it could be possible that "the world" would end up moving in a different direction than BEVs.

So I mused a bit about what would be the obstacles that the BEV could encounter that would prohibit global and "universal" adaptation (comparable with current ICE adaptation), and cause a different direction, such as hydrogen/fuel cell EVs.

I do not live in the US but in The Netherlands, one of the most densely populated area's in the world. Our cities (and many West European cities, for that matter) are not so big that people live their entire life in the same city and don't need a car - "everyone" has a car. Although the "12th floor apartment" was just an example, I can tell you for a fact that at least 90% of our population does not have private parking space, but parks their car on public roads. Maybe not a block away, that again was just an example, but at least not in a designated spot where you can be guaranteed to be able to park your car every day and charge it. Charge it, that is, IF you get permission to put up a private charger on a public road (and somehow get power there). Or will we see the pavement littered with extension cords running from houses to the cars on the street?

These are VERY REAL obstacles to _universal_ adaptation of BEV's, or to be more precise, to overnight charging of BEVs at home and not being dependent on public charging infrastructure, which was the point I was responding to earlier.

Will it cause one less Model S sale? Nope! Will it limit Model E adaption? Maybe, probably not much. Will it prevent replacing the vast majority of ICE cars by a BEV in the next 20 years. IMHO option, it might.

@pebell

Sorry pebell! It looks like I'm the one who needs to do some reconsidering and realize that not everyone on this forum lives in America. With that said other countries are looking at different ways of electrifying their public road infrastructure. Scania is looking at bringing inductive or conductive charging to roadways in Sweden and has partnered with Siemens to construct a pilot program in northern Sweden. See here, http://www.scania.com/sustainability/featured-stories/towards-sustainabl... .

The Netherlands may follow suit one day. See here, http://green.autoblog.com/2012/10/27/smart-highways-can-charge-evs-give-... .

The only way I see how you could avoid public charging infrastructure if you park overnight on a public road and do not wish to use an extension cord would be to beam the power by microwave from your house to the car. Passing pedestrians may object but just post warning signs!

In the end though, I believe that super-fast DC charging at fuelling stations will win out as being the most cost effective way of getting power to your car away from home for not much longer then it currently takes to fill your car with gasoline.

@Andrezj1: First, thanks for the facts and logic that you provided regarding hydrogen fuel cell tech: I am looking forward to the next time the subjects comes to the table with a "non-believer" ;-D

Also I was very interested to learn about how many US homes have private parking, that is even more than I already suspected!

About your microwave comment - I had to laugh because I just realized that the man who gave us the AC motor AND the name of the company we all adore, was wayyyy ahead of us: http://www.damninteresting.com/teslas-tower-of-power/

@pebell

Thanks for the link. Tesla was definitely a man well ahead of his time.

To further strengthen the EV proposition vis-a-vis the fuel cell car I would like to comment briefly on fuel cost.

In the US, the DOE has a very ambitious goal of reaching at retail a price of $4 a kg of hydrogen or $4 of gasoline equivalent. On the other hand, solar power in the US is expected to hit a LCOE price of 8 cents a kWh or $2.70 a gallon or $.71 a litre in the next few years(33.7 kWh per US gallon of gasoline). With ever increasing scale(Swanson's Law) and technological improvements this price will fall even further while there is little hope of such a future for hydrogen given the challenges of reaching the $4 mark. Better yet some utilities in the US offer their customers very cheap off-peak EV charging rates like Virginia Electric and Power Co whose super off-peak EV rate comes in at 1.69 cents a kWh or $.57 an e-gallon or .114 Euro per litre! So the question you may want to ask a fuel cell advocate is would you prefer to drive a relative fuel hog at $4 a gallon or a fuel miser(EV) at $.57 a gallon?

If none of that convinces the fuel cell fans than you can always clinch the argument by yelling, Remember the Hindenburg!

@Andrzej1

LOL re:Hindenburg!

Another argument that I sometimes had a quick win with, is: the reason hydrogen infrastructure will always be more complex and expensive than for oil, is that H2 molecules are about the smallest molecules there are. If a H2 molecule is the size of a grain of sand, other molecules are the size of ping pong balls. Try building a container out of those that will contain sand without leaking! You can't change the physics of that, dude!

No idea if it's accurate, but it sounds good! :))) And next time, I'll wrap it up with "Remember the Hindenburg??"

Q.E.D. :)

@pebell

You're quite right that storing hydrogen is a real pain as it will leak very slowly through almost anything including steel(through diffusion). Hydrogen can form flammable mixtures in air in as little concentrations as 4%. That's why hydrogen storage areas have to be well-ventilated to make sure that the gas cannot accumulate in any way as it can be ignited with very little energy. The ignition energy of a hydrogen-air mixture can be as low as 20 microjoules, an amount approximately equal to the energy contained in a small particle of sand travelling at 4 m/s. Self-ignition is always a concern. Needless to say precautions need to be taken around any electrical equipment as a result. Many space shuttle flights were delayed because of hydrogen leaks.

If that weren't enough hydrogen attacks and embrittles metal. It would be interesting to see what my homeowner's insurance would say if I wanted to keep a fuel cell vehicle with a hydrogen tank in my garage. I am confident that at a minimum they would insist that garage be hydrogen certified which would mean a leak detection system, alarm and proper ventilation and perhaps even a restriction on what type of equipment was stored or used there. In this case parking on the street would have its advantages.

BTW, I see you added a couple question marks after Hindenburg so in case you missed the reference watch this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgWHbpMVQ1U .

Hydrogen is sneaky dangerous, the ninja molecule.

@Andrzej1: The Hindenburg reference definitely wasn't lost on me :) Quite the contrary, I love it's potential as a dramatic "pause for effect" closing argument :))


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