Since the beginning of 2020, Covid19, currently the most famous virus in the world and the search for the vaccine, has taken pole position in the news. At the same time, topics that have been on the minds of scientists and politicians for years are once again increasingly in the spotlight in the media and social networks. For example, the topic of mobility and alternative drives has been posing an equally great challenge to science and our everyday lives for years, because mobility is inevitably linked to sustainability and environmental awareness and, not least, to our health and life. If the climate protection goals are not achieved, this will have lasting negative effects on our environment and our well-being. In this context, many measures must be combined into an overall strategy. One of these are alternative fuels and in particular hydrogen drives, which we at magility take a closer look at in the current article.
It is important to find alternative fuels for vehicles which are in no way inferior to fossil fuels from petroleum such as petrol, diesel or paraffin and which, in the best case, are also climate-neutral. After all, there are already around 1.3 billion motor vehicles on the road worldwide today.
Hydrogen and E-Fuels are Ahead
According to ADAC forecasts, hydrogen and synthetic fuels – so-called e-fuels – are the long-term winners, as they appear to have sufficient capacity to store energy. They also generate synergy effects in the context of sector linkage, i.e. the networking of electricity, heat and transport. And they can be designed with a high knock resistance. As a result, engines can be more highly compressed and their efficiency increased. The apparent dream team consists of regeneratively gained electricity and CO2 from the air. Their combination would produce a virtual CO2-neutral fuel, which would dissolve a large part of our concerns about a livable environment in water or air. However, this would come at the price of a long production chain and very high energy loss.
Too Little Sustainability in Electric Cars
E-fuels are also at the top of the priority list for sports car manufacturer Porsche. For Michael Steiner, the board member in charge of development, the combustion engine will continue to set the tone on the roads worldwide. Although Porsche has already brought a fully electric vehicle onto the market with the Taycan model and also offers a hybrid version, Steiner does not see much long-term potential for this technology. Electric mobility is pursuing the goal of sustainability too slowly. After all, Porsche still wants to put half of its sold vehicles on the streets by 2025, where they will stay for quite a while, as they are driven by their owners for a very long time. At the same time, however, the VW subsidiary also wants to push the specification of e-fuels in order to have a say in the high-performance sector of vehicle engines. And above all, technical problems like those once experienced with the introduction of E10 should not occur again.
Hydrogen as a Never-Ending Source
Synthetic fuels are now produced on the basis of hydrogen, because hydrogen is almost infinitely available in nature and can be produced climate-neutrally. This is different from experiments with renewable raw materials such as rapeseed, corn or even wheat and palm oil. What reads like a list of ingredients for vegan cooking had striking disadvantages when it came to mixing them into fuels: Monocultures developed, and in South America, primeval forests had to give way to palm oil plantations. In the case of Generation 2 biogas/CNG, the “plate-tank discussion” is no longer relevant, as plant residues such as straw are used. Nevertheless, the hydrogen variant has great potential.
The hydrogen produced in the Power-to-X (PtX) process is first converted to methane with the help of CO2, which gave this step the term Power-to-Gas (PtG). Finally, the whole thing can be liquefied in a third process step. Usually via the Fischer-Tropsch process, the methane is converted into a longer-chain hydrocarbon, leading to the term power-to-liquid (PtL).
Costs Remain the Same
For both manufacturers and consumers, there is still one annoying drawback: despite its suitability for climate control, electricity for PtX is still defined as part of conventional power consumption. This means that it has to be paid for at 16 cents or, in other words, at 55% of the electricity price.
Hydrogen filling stations are still in short supply
Porsche also considers the expansion of a network of filling stations for electric cars to be costly and time-consuming. However, fuel cell cars are not yet making much progress, because hydrogen filling stations are still lacking.
According to the ADAC, there are only 134 of them in Europe. After all, the lion’s share is to be found in Germany with 84 stations. By the end of 2021 another 46 are to be added. If you cross the border into France or Austria, you should take a bicycle or good hiking boots with you as a precaution, because both countries currently offer only five hydrogen filling stations each. It will be even more difficult in Belgium with only two filling stations. Switzerland has three and the Netherlands only four hydrogen filling stations.
These Alternative Drives are Currently Available
Fuel Cell Cars
A fuel cell, which is fed from a hydrogen tank, generates the electricity for propulsion while driving by reversing the electrolysis. A small battery serves as an intermediate storage and covers the demand during peak loads such as acceleration.
Hyundai has its Nexo model on the market as standard, while Toyota makes the Mirai model as standard. Mercedes offers the GLC F-Cell.
Safety is guaranteed by Regulation (EC) No 79/2008. The non-toxic, invisible and volatile hydrogen is also subject to European safety standards for crash tests.
The electricity comes from the socket and, with the help of a large battery in the vehicle, currently provides a range of around 300 kilometers. The vehicles are considered to be very safe, except if, for example, an accident causes the technical protective measures to become deformed and, in the worst case, start to burn. Electric drives are currently mainly used in industrial vehicles, city vehicles and sports cars.
Synthetic fuels, so-called e-fuels, are produced from CO2 and hydrogen using renewable energy. They are still at the stage of intensive research. The great hope for this alternative drive lies in its climate neutrality and the chance to continue using combustion engines. However, the production chain from wind orsun to electricity, from electricity to hydrogen and from hydrogen using CO2 to e-fuels is very long and lossy.
A hybrid combines different drive principles or energy sources, for example an electric drive with petrol or diesel. In doing so, it uses the advantages of diesel, petrol or fuel cells and electricity. The advantage of this technology is potentially lower fuel consumption and therefore lower emissions. The disadvantages are the high recycling costs for the battery packs, a complex control system, the high weight and the double energy storage required.
A mixture of propane and butane liquefied under pressure, known as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), provides propulsion and is a source of pleasure for the consumer: only around half the cost of conventional fuels are to be paid. To ensure protection against leaks in the tank, fragrances are added to the odourless gas, so that any leaking gas can be detected. Gas-powered vehicles are considered safe.
Natural gas is one of the combustible organic substances. It consists of 85% methane and up to 10% nitrogen and carbon dioxide. For passenger cars, compressed natural gas is mainly used, with CNG being the abbreviation for Compressed Natural Gas. The fuel and vehicles are considered safe.
Alternative Drives – magility Outlook for Future Mobility
It remains to be seen which alternative drives and fuels will establish themselves on the market in the long term. According to our magility experts, there will not be “the one” right drive technology in the future. Demand, usage behaviour and the expansion of the infrastructure will play a decisive role in determining which drive technologies will prevail, for what purpose and in which location. For the mobility of the future, a mix of different drives and fuels seems to be most likely. One conceivable option would be an electric motor with various energy carriers or storage systems such as hydrogen/fuel cells and batteries.
Feel free to contact us if you have further questions about drive technologies, alternative fuels or the mobility of the future in general. We also invite you to our hydrogen network. If you want to be part of it feel free to write an email to our CMO email@example.com.
The alternative drives should also be thoroughly tested. For example, the independent development service provider and test facility operator KST Motorenversuch GmbH provides dynamic e-drive test benches for automobile manufacturers.
Please feel free to contact us if you have further questions about drive technologies, new fuels or future mobility in general. We would also be pleased to include you in our hydrogen network. Please send an e-mail to our CMO firstname.lastname@example.org.