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Gas or Gas?

Whats Going to Power the Cars of Our Future?


Konrad Campbell
UWRT 1104

So, what will power the cars of the future? Well since you presumably

read the title, it more than likely will be gas. Gas? you say, slightly
confused, Dont we already use gas to power our cars? What about all this

stuff about electric cars and other forms of technology?. Well youre right.

Today gasoline powers more than 80% of all vehicles in the U.S. according to

the U.S. Energy Department. However, there is a new promising technology

that will be powering our cars in the future. It seems the future of the

automotive market is indeed water. But how will we power a car on water?

you ask. You have many questions. Hopefully Ill get to answer them here.

Or maybe not, who knows?

I suppose since you seem interested enough, Ill write a bit more . Well,

before we can get into how water is going to magically power our cars we

should probably investigate what we are already using in our cars today.

Today nearly all road vehicles are powered by the internal combustion

engine. This is a pretty reliable and proven technology, and while I may be

partial to it, it is also an aging technology. In a period of such high pollution it

simply isnt feasible to continue using these engines due to their

inefficiencies and pollutants. An average gasoline combustion engine has an

efficiency of about 20% (Roy Rex), which is quite wasteful as most of the

energy from the fuel is converted to heat rather than usable energy. But, so

what if its only 20% efficient right? I mean Im a college student, Im 20%

efficient at my best. Well, in the small scale it doesnt really sound too bad.

But in the large scale it is quite significant. For example, theres about 260
million cars in the us alone. When you take 80% of those cars youre left

with 208 million cars, which are just wasting fuel. That just the average fuel

consumption.

Youre probably thinking now, Wow, I never really thought about it

that way. Are there any new things we can do to fix this?. Maybe. Auto-

manufacturers have been coming up with both new technologies and ways

to innovate upon what they already have. An example of this is the catalytic

converter. When the U.S. starting imposing new regulations on the auto-

companies in the 1970s, they had to come up with something to make their

engines meet the new regulation. So, what did they do to the engine?

Nothing. Instead of fixing the problem, they just put a catalytic converter on

the exhaust system and Abracadabra! the problem went away. But while

the auto-manufacturers did this, they also researched a lot of alternatives to

the combustion engine.

Some examples of this are Chryslers extensive research into gas

turbine engines or GMs research of the Wankle Engine. Both companies saw

the usefulness of the technologies and tried to develop them to be reliable

and cost-effective enough to put into our cars. Gas turbines showed promise

as they could run off nearly anything from heavy diesel fuel to tequila (S,

really). Chrysler made a production run of 55 cars powered by turbine

engines for consumer testing, and the results were surprising. Nearly
everybody who was testing them for Chrysler loved them, as they could run

off nearly anything and there was no need for shifting gears. However due

to the fuel crisis of the 1970s, the engine that could run off nearly anything

was scrapped due to diminished purchases and a part of a bailout deal with

the Federal Government.

So, whyd I tell you this? Well to give you some insight into different

technologies that have been considered to be used in cars or are currently

used. But this list is a pretty long one, with examples including diesel

engines, which are gasoline engines that run off thicker fuel with

compression rather than spark, or hybrid systems where a gasoline engine is

run alongside an electric motor to increase the efficiency of the vehicle.

Other examples include solar panels to charge batteries in electric cars, full

electric cars, the Wankle (rotary engine), etc. But this isnt what you came

here for. You didnt come this far to learn about all those methods. Youre

here for the meat, the true substance of this research, the future of the car.

Should I keep you in suspense a little longer? No, Ive done that long enough

already. In my opinion I believe the future of the car lies in the hydrogen fuel

cell.

Why the hydrogen fuel cell you ask? Its simple really. Its an efficient

system that works off of water. Surprising, right? Probably not if youve been

paying attention, I did mention it at the beginning after all. But hows water
going to power a two-ton car? How do you get the power from it? It actually

works off the chemical process of electrolysis in an extremely controlled

environment. Energy is released when water molecules are made from the

combination of Oxygen, and Hydrogen, hence the namesake of the

technology. However, in order for the water to be reassembled, the

molecule must first be broken apart, which does require some energy . While

it takes energy to split the molecule, more energy is received when it is put

back together, thus allowing the excess energy to be able to be converted to

electricity to power an electric motor to propel the car (California Air).

Sounds pretty good, right? The U.S. Congressional Science Committee

thought so too, so whatd they do? In 2003, they initiated the FreedomCAR

program, whos only goal is to research hydrogen technology and to improve

upon it until it become a reliable technology for use in cars (U.S. Congress,

Science). After this was presented to the Committee of Science, research

was started by the team of both government and private entities to research

this relatively new technology.

While hydrogen fuel cells sound great. There are some significant

obstacles that have to be overcome before they head into large scale

production. A simple example of this is theyre heavy. A gallon of water

weighs about 8.34 lbs., and when you consider a car powered by hydrogen

fuel cells has about 20 individual cells each about a gallon thats about 166 .8
lbs. for your battery. When you consider an average car battery only weighs

about 20-30 lbs., thats a significant increase. Plus, normally there is

another battery alongside the fuel cells to store excess energy along with the

weight of the electric motor, which is essentially a solid mass of copper wire

and steel.

So why do I believe that this is the future of modern cars? Well I think

thats a pretty involved question. But in simple terms its a simple and clean

technology to replace the batteries we use in car currently. Right now, most

car batteries are made with a Lithium base which is a quite reactive element

when exposed to air, so if its used in large batteries it could be more

dangerous than conventional fuel tanks. But also since there is no need for

these heavy materials, there will also be a decrease in the demand for such

materials which would slow or at the least diminish the impact mining for

Lithium would have. But the big reason I see this as a feasible technology in

upcoming cars is the increase in electric cars in the last two decades. This

resurgence in interest for these cars, in my opinion, have led to research to

improve the battery and charging systems which have led to technologies

such as the hydrogen fuel cell. As well as the fuel cell being fueled by

water, the presence of the water also leads to added safety in the event of a

crash, as the gaseous hydrogen would be reabsorbed by the rush of water

flowing to the path of least resistance, minimizing the chance of it

combusting. Since the hydrogen gas is so flammable, the water adds a layer
of safety which many other batteries cant provide as if a normal battery is

punctured it is normally a dangerous situation due to the highly reactive

nature of Lithium.

For these reasons, I believe that the hydrogen fuel cell will be the

future of the car. While I dont like the idea of a silent car, I see that the

trends of the automotive market have led the car to be going in this direction

due to the consumption of fossil fuels and pollution caused by cars used

today. So yes, the future of the car lies in water. The new thing in cars is

really only 4 billion years old but hey the wheels an old invention and were

still using it. So long as the technology is reliable, well adapt it to where it

can be used.

Works Cited:

California Air Resources Board. "DriveClean.ca.gov." Hydrogen Fuel Cell.


California Air Resources Board, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

International Energy Agency Implementing Agreement on Advanced Motor Fuels.


Automotive Fuels Information Service. Automotive Fuels for the Future: The
Search for Alternatives. Paris: International Energy Agency, 1999. Web. 12
Mar. 2017.

Lienkamp, Markus. Conference on Future Automotive Technology: Focus Electro


Mobility. Wiesbaden: Springer Vieweg, 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.
Melendez, Margo, and Anelia Milbrandt. Regional Consumer Hydrogen Demand
and Optimal Hydrogen Refueling Station Siting. Golden, CO: National
Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2008. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.

Melendez, Margo, Anelia Milbrandt, and National Renewable Research Laboratoy


(U.S.). "Hydrogen Infrastructure Transition Analysis." Hydrogen Infrastructure
Transition Analysis (eBook, 2006) [UNC Charlotte Libraries]. National
Renewable Research Laboratoy (U.S.), n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Roy, Rex. "Are Gas Engines Now More Efficient Than Diesel?" Popular Mechanics.
Popular Mechanics, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

United States. Congress. House. Committee on Science. The Future of DOE's


Automotive Research Programs: Hearing before the Committee on Science,
House of Representatives, One Hundred Seventh Congress, Second Session,
February 7, 2002. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2003. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.