Saturday, February 11, 2012

Can Electric cars eliminate greenhouse gas emission?

There is a myth, that electric cars will eliminate greenhouse emissions, and reduce the global warming. Electric cars will not reduce the greenhouse emission, because, you still need electricity, to charge your batteries. Companies promoting electric cars, are now planning to set up their own battery charging stations, because, you have to charge the batteries of these electric cars, every now and then. Otherwise, they will not be able to market their electric cars. Moreover, there is currently no battery in the market that can last more than 28 hours between the charges, though many companies are trying to develop superior batteries. One company claims a battery capacity of 300whr/kg, for their Lithium polymer battery, much superior than other batteries, which can run 600kms, with 6 minutes charging. Though, new batteries such as semi solid Lithium ion batteries, based on the principle of ‘flow batteries’, are promising, it is still, a long way to commercialization. President Obama, has set a set a target of 1 million electric cars in US roads, by 2012.It is estimated that US has to produce about 40 billion dollars worth of domestically produced batteries. A lithium ion battery, which weighs less, and stores more energy, is the promising technology. But, the Lithium resources are limited. Battery is the heart of an electric car. It is true, that electric cars do not emit smoke, or make noise like petrol cars. But, these two factors alone, are not sufficient, to substitute traditional, fossil fuel powered international combustion engines. It is equally true, that electric cars can reduce green house emission, to an extent, where fossil fuel consumed cars, are replaced with electric cars. To that extend, the fossil fuel consumption by these cars are reduced. But, the power to charge the batteries, will still, have to come from the common grid. Unless, the power generation technology, using fossil fuels is changed, there will be no dramatic greenhouse gas emission reduction, by introducing electric cars. Alternatively, if cars are built on Hydrogen based fuel, either using a conventional internal combustion engine, or by using Fuel cell, then, a substantial amount of greenhouse emission, can be eliminated. However, the Hydrogen generation, should be based on renewable energy source only. Whichever way, you look at it, renewable energy is the key. Those Governments and companies, who do not invest in renewable energy technologies and systems, now, will have to pay a heavy price, in the future. But, even those companies, investing on renewable energy technologies, should look beyond current technologies and systems. The best starting point, for these industries will be, to substitute ‘storage batteries’ with ‘stored Hydrogen’. It is much simpler, to install PV solar panels or wind turbines, and to generate, Hydrogen, onsite, from water. You can store Hydrogen in fuelling stations, and fuel the cars. Honda was the first entrant into this market, who was focusing fuel cell technology, using compressed hydrogen gas. Alternatively, such Hydrogen can be generated from ‘Biogas’ generated from biological wastes and waste treatment plants. All necessary technologies are currently available to make it happen. Governments can try to promote small townships with Hydrogen fuel stations, and show case such models, to the rest of the country or other nations to follow. This will help nations, to reduce their greenhouse emission, and at the same time, they can become self sufficient in their energy requirements. They no longer, have to depend on polluting oil and gas, from few Middle Eastern countries. Countries, like India with impressive economic growth, heavily depend on oil imports, and any slight fluctuation in oil prices, can easily upset such growth. It is time Governments around the world; take a serious look at Hydrogen, as their alternative energy source. It is just not good enough, to promote renewable energy technologies, but they have to develop generation, storage and distribution technologies also, for Hydrogen. What is needed at this hour, is ‘will, determination and leadership’ on the part of the Governments like US, China and India, that can set an example, for the rest of the world, by investing in Hydrogen economy.