Home > Free Essays > Tech & Engineering > Engineering > Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars?
Cite this

Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars? Expository Essay


Introduction

The world heavily relies on fossil fuels to power its vast transport system. Curtis and Anderson (2010) document that transportation uses up a significant portion of the total fossil fuels consumed by all industrialized countries.

While this reality was disregarded in previous decades, it has recently come to the attention of the world that overreliance of fossil fuels is detrimental to the environment and also unreliable. Intensive research into new technologies which use less no fossil fuel has therefore been engaged in.

One of these technologies is the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power vehicles. Hydrogen powered cars have been proposed to be the cars of the future due to their zero carbon emission and their significantly high energy efficiency (Mytelka & Boyle, 2008).

However, hydrogen powered cars suffer from significant demerits and this optimistic outlook on the future of hydrogen is called to question. This paper will argue that while hydrogen is a promising fuel, it will not replace fossil fuels for car. To reinforce this argument, the paper will highlight the significant weaknesses which hydrogen as a fuel faces.

Hydrogen Powered Vehicle

Hydrogen powered cars were first envisioned by engineers at General Motors in the 1970s following a breakthrough in fuel cell technology by NASA. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric cars where hydrogen powered fuel cells generates electricity to top up the batteries (Boxwell, 2011).

The vehicle then operates in a similar manner to other electrically powered vehicles. Fuel cells are the small modular electrochemical devices that use hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity.

They are the power generator that produces electricity through chemical reaction with hydrogen as opposed to burning the fuel, as with a combustion engine. A major merit of fuel cells is their efficiency and Boxwell (2011) notes that these cells typically extract twice as much energy from their fuel source compared to burning the fuel in an engine.

A Case for Hydrogen Powered Cars

A major advantage of hydrogen over fossil fuels is that is has no CO2 emissions. Fossil fuels are responsible for the worsening of air quality in all countries due to their high CO2 emissions.

Currently, the growth in fossil powered automobiles has been responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases which have been blamed for many negative environmental impacts including global warming and respiratory complications (Spoolman & Miller, 2011).

Hydrogen stands out as the perfect alternative to fossil fuels since it results in high energy efficiency and instead of emitting poisonous gases in their exhaust, hydrogen fueled cars emit water. Therefore, as consumers become more environmental conscious, hydrogen powered cars that have no carbon dioxide emissions are becoming more attractive.

Hydrogen has large support among policy makers and manufacturers to ensure that it gains a foothold in the market as the fuel of choice. Most new technologies fail to achieve popularity due to lack of funding and support.

This is not the case with hydrogen and funding for hydrogen research has increased exponentially in many developed countries as the search for clean energy continues (Jokisch & Mennel, 2009).

As a result of the concern by scientists and policy makers about the overreliance on fossil fuels which are limited in supply, hydrogen has received significant funding. In 2003, the then US president George W. Bush called for the dedication of $1billion in research funding so that hydrogen-powered automobiles would be realizable within the next decade (Grant, 2003).

Many other governments in industrialized countries all over the world are making significant investments to ensure that hydrogen-powered cars become a reality. In January 2012, the UK government made a £400m investment to hydrogen technology research so as to speed the process of bringing hydrogen-fuelled cards into the mainstream (Sky News, 2012).

If efficient means of obtaining hydrogen from water are developed, hydrogen can be used to fuel cars for the next many centuries. Undoubtedly, hydrogen would require vast supplies of water as the raw material.

Grant (2003) reveals that to get a daily hydrogen ration of 230,000 tonnes which is what would be required if all vehicles in the US were running on hydrogen instead of petroleum, over two million tonnes of water would be required.

However, this vast amount of water would not be wasted since after being expelled as exhaust by the vehicle, it could be recycled to the environment unlike the case with fossil fuel exhausts.

A key technology for hydrogen-driven vehicles is fuel cells. Fuel cells enable hydrogen powered cars to be fueled in minutes; which gives them a significant advantage over electric cars which must have their batteries charged overnight.

In the past, the availability of fuel cells has been a major hindrance to the realization of hydrogen powered vehicles (Jokisch & Mennel, 2009). However, the fuel cells have been under development for many years and are now beginning to show signs of reaching maturity in terms of cost and performance.

Hydrogen has a natural compatibility with fuel cells which makes it desirable for powering vehicles. These fuel cells achieve an efficiency of up to 60% compared to 22% for gasoline or 45% for diesel which means that the amount of fuel required is significantly reduced.

Why Hydrogen Can’t Replace Fossil Fuels

For hydrogen to replace petroleum completely as the core fuel for transport, it would require to be produced at a staggering scale. Grant (2003) notes that enormous outlays in capital plant and a significant amount of land would have to be dedicated to hydrogen production efforts.

Enormous production scale of hydrogen would require a lot of electricity to be added to the grid. This is because unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen is not a “primal” energy source and more energy is used to extract hydrogen from its source than is recovered in its end use.

Grant (2003) demonstrates that when electrolysis (obtaining hydrogen by splitting water with electricity) is used to produce hydrogen, enormous amounts of electricity are required to produce the vast amount of hydrogen that would be necessary to power all vehicles in a city.

The most compelling rationale for a hydrogen-powered economy is that it will result in drastic reductions in carbon emissions. However, hydrogen is not found freely like fossil fuel and extracting and purifying hydrogen is a process that is both expensive and energy intensive.

Studies by the Electric Power Research Institute demonstrate that in the US, 97% of the hydrogen is derived from “the thermocatalytic ‘splitting’ of natural gas or refinery gases, or ‘coal gasification’ — the reaction of water (steam) with carbon to yield hydrogen and carbon monoxide” (Grant, 2003, p.130).

Fossil fuels are used to generate the heat for these processes which means that carbon emissions are yielded to derive this hydrogen. These carbon emissions offset the benefits obtained by using hydrogen fuel instead of fossil fuels to power vehicles.

While hydrogen fueled cars purport to have a greater advantage compared to electric cars since they can be refilled quickly at any hydrogen fuelling station, the reality is that the number of hydrogen fuel stations is simply minimal.

The Economist (2008) states that while there have been progress on the development of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles by major automobile manufacturers, the energy industry has lagged behind in terms of building infrastructure such as hydrogen filing stations. The ability to produce hydrogen powered vehicles in large for consumers is therefore not possible due to the lack of availability of the fuel.

For hydrogen powered vehicles to become a reality, the number of hydrogen filling stations available in countries has to increase dramatically. To better underline the problem, the Economist (2008) reports that as of 2008, the global oil giant Shell had 6 hydrogen filling-stations worldwide while BP which had earlier on advocated for hydrogen as a feasible alternative for petrol closed its sole hydrogen filling-station in the UK

. Because there is currently very little demand for hydrogen fuel (due to the small number of hydrogen powered cars in operation), there is little motivation to create a hydrogen supply infrastructure which would be very expensive; and since there is no hydrogen supply infrastructure, people have no motivation to but the mostly expensive devices that use hydrogen as fuel.

The goal that hydrogen powered cars want to achieve is similar to that of fossil fuel powered automobiles. This includes similar or greater cruising ranges, and similar or equal horse power. Tabak (2009) declares that these goals are hard to accomplish since gasoline-based automotive technology has had many decades to mature and is today very highly developed.

To be able to run a car on hydrogen in a similar manner as cars are run on gasoline, hydrogen reserves must be kept in the car in a safe and compact manner. While this is what is being pursued by most car manufacturers and fuel cell companies, the issue presents a major technical challenge.

At room temperature and pressure, “hydrogen takes up some 3,000 times more space than gasoline containing an equivalent amount of energy” (Room, 2004, p.75). The preferred storage options therefore use compressed hydrogen gas and at this high pressures, specialized materials which are expensive have to be used to make the components of the car.

While support for the research and development of hydrogen powered vehicles may have been widespread a decade ago, the emergence of hybrid cars has reduced the competitiveness of hydrogen-powered vehicles with conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.

The attraction with hybrid cars is that they do not require the use of technology that is entirely new to automakers and they offer both efficiency and performance that rivals conventional engines (Spoolman & Miller, 2011).

Manufactures have therefore turned to hybrid technology which makes use of conventional engines whose performance has been made optimal over the decades; and electric motors so as to reduce the fuel consumption of the cars.

Hybrids are gaining popularity in many countries and governments are offering subsidies to encourage consumers to purchase these vehicles. The Canadian government has made investments to fund research in storage devices for hybrid cars (Crowe, 2012). Support for hydrogen powered vehicles has therefore waned significantly in recent years.

Another barrier to the introduction of hydrogen as the main transportation fuel is that an expansive infrastructure has been developed in all countries to support gasoline powered vehicles. This infrastructure has led to a decrease in the cost of delivering gasoline to the consumers.

Major breakthroughs in hydrogen production and delivery are required to reduce the cost of making hydrogen fuel available to a retail network so as to serve a mass market. Tabak (2009) states that this trillion-dollar infrastructure will remain in use for the next many decades and it is unlikely that such an infrastructure will be created any time soon to support hydrogen powered vehicles.

Another setback faced by hydrogen powered cars is that they are currently very expensive and offer no significant advantages for consumers to buy them. There is therefore a common consensus among researchers that significant government funding is needed to realize mass-produced hydrogen cars.

One study in 2008 projected that “over $55 billion in government investment would be needed to make it possible for a mere 2 million hydrogen fueled cars to be operational by 2023” (The Economist, 2008).

All this will be possible if the technology for fuel cells gets significantly cheaper over the years. At the current rate, it is unlikely that hydrogen powered cars will gain large scale popularity or achieve a significant price reduction.

Discussion and Conclusion

At the present, major barriers remain in research to make hydrogen fuel cars available but intensive research is still underway since the potential of hydrogen cars to reduce oil dependence and harmful emissions justifies the cost of the research.

The achievement of the envisioned hydrogen economy future rests on the ability to come up with a pollution-free source for the hydrogen itself and a fuel cell for efficiently converting it into useful energy without generating pollution. At the present, these two pillars upon which the hydrogen economy is to be built are yet to be achieved.

A study by the National Academic of Engineering and National Research Council in 2004 asserted that even in the best case scenario, a hydrogen economy would not be achievable for the next many decades (Romm, 2004).

At the present, fuel cell technology is still in its early stages of development and a major technological breakthrough would be required before they are able to compete on an equal footing with fossil fuels.

Moving from fossil fuel to hydrogen promises to be a difficult and very expensive proposition. While the major incentive for using hydrogen is its positive environmental impact, this paper has revealed that the common means of producing hydrogen still relies on fossil fuels therefore negating the positive environmental impacts that hydrogen fuel promises.

This paper has highlighted the numerous technical and economic hurdles that will have to be overcome before hydrogen can become a practical substitute to gasoline. While there is a lot of government support for the development of hydrogen as a major fuel, major breakthroughs are required before this goal can be achieved.

It can therefore be authoritatively stated that hydrogen will not replace fossil fuels unless major scientific breakthroughs are made to overcome the hurdles that hydrogen currently faces.

References

Boxwell, M. (2011). The 2011 Electric Car Guide. NY: Greenstream Publishing.

Crowe, P. (2012). Canada invests another $34 million in automotive energy storage research. Web.

Curtis, D. & Anderson, J. (2010). Electric and hybrid cars: a history. New York: McFarland.

Grant, P. M. (2003). Hydrogen lifts off – with a heavy load. Nature, 24(1), 129-130.

Jokisch, S. & Mennel, T. (2009). Hydrogen in Passenger Transport: A Macroeconomic Analysis. Transport Reviews, 29(4), 415–438.

Mytelka, L. K. & Boyle, G. (2008). Making Choices about Hydrogen: Transport Issues for Developing Countries. Ottawa: IDRC.

Romm, J. J. (2004). The hype about Hydrogen. Issues in Science & Technology, 20(3), 74-81.

Sky News (2012). Hydrogen-Powered Cars A Step Closer In UK. Web.

Spoolman, S. & Miller, G. (2011). Living in the environment: principles, connections, and solutions. Toronto: Cengage Learning.

Tabak, J. (2009). Natural Gas and Hydrogen. Boston: Infobase Publishing, 2009.

The Economist (2008). Hydrogen cars: . Technology Quarterly. Web.

Bibliography

Scholarly Sources

Boxwell, M. (2011). The 2011 Electric Car Guide. NY: Greenstream Publishing.

Curtis, D. & Anderson, J. (2010). Electric and hybrid cars: a history. New York: McFarland.

Grant, P. M. (2003). Hydrogen lifts off – with a heavy load. Nature, 24(1), 129-130.

Jokisch, S. & Mennel, T. (2009). Hydrogen in Passenger Transport: A Macroeconomic Analysis. Transport Reviews, 29(4), 415–438.

Mytelka, L. K. & Boyle, G. (2008). Making Choices about Hydrogen: Transport Issues for Developing Countries. Ottawa: IDRC.

Romm, J. J. (2004). The hype about Hydrogen. Issues in Science & Technology, 20(3), 74-81.

Spoolman, S. & Miller, G. (2011). Living in the environment: principles, connections, and solutions. Toronto: Cengage Learning.

Tabak, J. (2009). Natural Gas and Hydrogen. Boston: Infobase Publishing, 2009.

Popular Sources

Anscombe, N. (2010). Hydrogen: hype or hope? Engineering & Technology, 24(3): 44-48.

Crowe, P. (2012). Canada invests another $34 million in automotive energy storage research.

Motavalli, J. (2012). The Road Ahead for Gasoline-Free Cars. The Futurist, 46(2): 6-7.

Sky News (2012). Hydrogen-Powered Cars A Step Closer In UK.

The Economist (2008). Hydrogen cars: The car of the perpetual future. Technology Quarterly.

This expository essay on Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars? was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Need a custom Expository Essay sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

301 certified writers online

GET WRITING HELP
Cite This paper

Select a website citation style:

Reference

IvyPanda. (2019, October 3). Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars? Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/will-hydrogen-replace-fossil-fuels-for-cars/

Work Cited

"Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars?" IvyPanda, 3 Oct. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/will-hydrogen-replace-fossil-fuels-for-cars/.

1. IvyPanda. "Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars?" October 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/will-hydrogen-replace-fossil-fuels-for-cars/.


Bibliography


IvyPanda. "Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars?" October 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/will-hydrogen-replace-fossil-fuels-for-cars/.

References

IvyPanda. 2019. "Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars?" October 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/will-hydrogen-replace-fossil-fuels-for-cars/.

References

IvyPanda. (2019) 'Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars'. 3 October.

More related papers