In an article from Automotive Engineering International, Volkswagen’s Professor Jurgen Leohold sees hydrogen fuel cells as being an interim solution. The long-term solution, according to Professor Leohold is better batteries that could run a car for 350 miles and be recharged in five minutes. When these batteries exist, hydrogen will be entirely unecessary. And, these batteries do already exist, although at a high price. It will not be long, however, before prices come down.
Dr. Paul MacCready, chairman of Aerovironment in Monrovia and maker of the Impact, the prototype for General Motor’s EV1 – Batteries have recently gotten good. Lithium batteries, as presently used in cell-phones and microcomputers, have about six times the energy per kilogram as the lead-acid batteries employed in the first electric vehicles. They’re a little expensive at the moment, but the prices are quickly coming down. In two to four years they will be affordable for automobiles.
In fact, we’re amazed at what’s happening with them; there are lithium cells out there offering 220 W-hr/Kg [a measure of energy density] compared with the 60 to 70 you get from nickel-metal hydride. And they’re probably going to 250 W-hr/Kg; some people are even working on 300-to-350 W-hr/Kg cells. At the 180-to-200 level, they’re very good, but at 300-to-350, they’ll take over. At first you’d probably use these cells in conjunction with an engine [i.e., in a hybrid vehicle] for those rare trips over 100 miles and employ the battery for everything shorter. But when they get cheap enough to take you 300 miles, that’s probably the end of the gasoline engine. On a trip, you’d be able to go 300 miles, stop for coffee and a hot dog while you charge up, and then go another 200. That’s 500 miles in a day.