Auto power play: Japan's hydrogen car vs China's battery drive

By Norihiko Shirouzu and Paul Lienert

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Cars and motorcycles are only part of the problem. There's also trucks, trains, planes and ships, not to mention heavy machinery like earth-moving or mining equipment that uses fossil fuels.

Hooking up you car to a power point overnight or swapping batteries is great, but for the really big stuff, you will need something readily available and powerful enough to move it at an acceptable speed.

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China, a major oil importer and blighted by air pollution, is pushing for all-electric (EV) cars, offering incentives to buyers, forcing global automakers to share their technology, and opening its market to tech firms and others to produce electric vehicles.

Good luck in that the bear usually remembers a bad experience and only tries it once.

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From a tech standpoint it's a six of one, half of dozen of the other scenario for me. As someone who wants to see more alternatives to vehicles that burn hydrocarbons, both sound good.

But because I live in Japan and want Japan to prosper I favour the hydrogen powered fuel cell technology. Touch wood we'll continue to see more innovation and improvements very soon.

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Electricity uses existing infrastructure and is thus easy to bring in. Battery power will only go up with time.

Hydrogen, meanwhile, requires major building before it's even feasible, much less cost-effective. The Japanese way may be technologically superior, but the hurdles are probably too high.

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Fwiw, Nissan and MItsubishi make electric cars, so its not the entire Japanese auto industry betting on hydrogen.

Fuel cells are super expensive, so I suspect battery drive will be affordable and practical sooner.

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For Japan , this need to be two way track , no choice. Yes the diesel technology has been hammered in the recent months but Japanese lost out to Europeans and Koreans due to lack of foresight in to diesel who’s market share had been growing and had contributed vast profits for those manufactures who invested in it. So it need to be both EV and FC, it is not going to be cheap but it will ensure the future survival

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EV car that recharge power from Coal fired power station doesn't make clean energy car. Hydrogen Fuel Cell car was very expensive. Hybrid petrol - battery car was best option for Government that wants reduce air pollution in the city. Also Governments around the world must stop peoples driving VW TDI clean diesel technology engine cars now. VW TDI clean diesel technology engine cars are not just polluted air in the street and also they are killing with us NOx Toxic Cancerous gas.

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Main problem with EV is that it takes too long to recharge making it a very difficult choice for people that drives middle and long distance.

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I don't really worry too much about that, seriously all you need to do is pick up a good optima car battery and your good to go. Many car batteries simply don't preform well.

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Main problem with EV is that it takes too long to recharge making it a very difficult choice for people that drives middle and long distance.

170 miles of battery power in 30 minutes. 85kWh (Type S) battery full range is 265 miles. New 90kWh battery range is 300 miles.

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@Amreeta S Did you pay JT for this advert for the battery company?

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Sorry but batteries degrades over time due to it's chemical composition this cannot be changed. After five year regardless of how much used the car, the batteries would only hold 60% at best the optimal amount when first bought. The downgrading gets worse when heat is applied. After ten years the batteries would require a replacement which would probably cost as much as half the amount of the car itself including the mechanical replacement job, meaning it would have no resale value.

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Hydrogen is a wasteful energy transfer process, the sooner fuel cell technology fails the better. The only reason Fuel cells exists is to keep the fuel companies and similar infrastructure for the status quo.

The Chinese are much smarter going all EV (You can charge anywhere a power point or super chargers exists) Much more convenient than looking for a overpriced Hydrogen station - when the consumer will actually have to pay the full true cost (not like the give it away for free to get the suckers to buy a hydrogen powered car).

With Plug in Ev's you can drive on electricity made from your homes roof top sunshine like I do. In summer time I can drive 72Km of driving on my GM made Volt imported into Australia. This range is sufficient for 99% of my driving - I average 0.5 L per life time premium fuel for maintenance mode and those rare occasional longer trips.

My Battery is 3 years old and no loss of capacity as the Volt's battery is fully looked after vs the early Nissans (This is one of the reason I did not buy a Nissan Leaf).

As the capacity will dramatically increase of batteries for auto use will occur they will allow faster charging and hopefully Fuel cells cars will be in the Car Museum - where they belong. Fingers crossed for the health of the planet* and the wallets and purses of the driving public.

Far better to build decent batteries for 10-15 year life than waste ENGERGY creating / storing /transporting and dispensing the folly of Hydrogen fuel. Go Plug in's Mitsubishi, Nissan Americans and Chinese. Plugin are the future hands down.

Toyota, Honda & Japanese government please hang your heads in shame over fuel cells. You have been had.

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Hydrogen is a wasteful energy transfer process, the sooner fuel cell technology fails the better.

Yeah that is what the big oils say but guess what it is going to succeed . Pure EVs just takes too long for the batteries to charge and down grading of batteries is an undeniable fate. Chevy Volt is an internal combustion engine car in EV clothing since the main source of power is the engine that charges the batteries.

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"It’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of the choice between batteries and hydrogen."

No it isn't. People do it all the time. All. The. Time.

As an EV owner, I am not anxious to own another. I am pretty confident that hydrogen is superior for several reasons. I have heard all of the criticisms, and they just don't stand up. EVs will be exposed as a dead end soon enough.

But make no mistake, in the short to medium term, people will keep buying EVs. They appear to resolve immediate problems, and people perceive global warming/climate change as an immediate threat. What is eventually going to be apparent to everyone is that EVs just don't fit our infrastructure as it exists. And they don't present a means of making things better without huge expense and a shift in vast streams of resources. The New York Times did a piece about two weeks ago that described people in California nearly coming to blows over having to wait to recharge their cars.... for free!

Hydrogen can be produced and sold profitably using electricity that is being wasted today. Deregulation of utilities in Japan will make that even cheaper. Batteries are inefficient means of storage and recharging them at about 6 pm, just as the sun is going down and people are coming home from work, puts a huge drain on the grid just when solar is petering out for the day. Hydrogen has great energy density, adds little mass to vehicles, and is a great means of storing energy from all kinds of sources. Cars can be fueled quickly and can go long distances without filling up again.

Sure, you can do what Ozmartin does and charge your car from your solar panels, but if your FIT is 30 yen, then you are probably driving around at 7 or 8 yen per kilometer after DC-AC-DC conversion. A good hybrid will be about 5 yen per kilometer in a cheaper vehicle with no range anxiety. Also note that OzMartin has to charge while he is at home during the day AND he has to wait around while he does it. So... more expensive than a gas station, less convenient than a gas station, and the power from his solar panels goes to his wasteful car rather than to his neighbors. That is the IDEAL of an EV, and it sure is not good enough for me. But, you know, people will pay that premium to save the environment while negating the benefits of their solar panels. Because groovy. What has to change to make that sustainable? Vastly cheaper batteries? Maybe. But they would have to be more efficient and lighter too. Mandatory night recharging? Definitely. Standardized charging centers and an end to free chargers? Definitely. In short, technical and cost barriers abound. Increased costs and decreased convenience seem certain.

I don't blame EV enthusiasts for not really being able to see it yet. Sumeba Miyako. Fuel cell vehicles are not the direct route to the future, but in about three years, maybe less, the sublime genius of hydrogen is going to seem obvious. I think some really really smart people figured it out about two years ago, and I have been watching it unfold ever since.

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