The world is becoming an increasingly volatile place; war is common as are random acts of terrorism. It is these acts which can be the most concerning; a well planned attack is likely to be uncovered and destroyed by one of the many government agencies. However a random, one time strike is much harder to protect against. Governments are becoming increasingly concerned with the nation’s reliance on fuel sourced from off shore. Possibly for the first time in history the entire armed forces could be grounded if certain supply lines were cut.
The most logical alternative is to find a new source of power, preferably one that is abundantly available and requires no reliance on other nations. Car manufacturers have been looking into alternatives to the traditional gasoline engine for many years. Is it possible that this technology will enable the nation to become self sufficient if required?
Gasoline engines run on petrol – an oil based liquid which is finite in supply. Experts have predicted that the oil currently known of and being mined will last for approximately another forty five years. This means that life as we all know has to change within your lifetime; the alternative is a world plunged back into the dark ages.
There have been many attempts to extract sufficient power from wind farms and solar energy but, as yet these have not been successful in generating enough power to stop the dependence on fossil fuels. Car manufacturers have taken a different approach and are researching and developing new ways of powering the automobiles on our roads.
The first step in decreasing fuel consumption was to increase the miles per gallon, this was the catalyst for the hybrid car. A hybrid car is powered by both a petrol engine and an electric engine. Some of these vehicles need to be plugged in to recharge the batteries they carry on-board whilst others are able to recharge their batteries whilst driving using power from the gasoline engine.
These cars are a huge step forward but still have a reliance on fossil fuels. It is also necessary to question what fuel is being used to generate the electricity at home; which is used to recharge the car. As an alternative to a dependence on oil it is a step in the right direction but the need for regular recharging does not yet make it a viable technology.
There has been a great interest in the power possibilities of hydrogen. NASA was using this technology on a large scale in the 1950’s and there were several attempts to build a hydrogen powered vehicle in the 1960’s and 70’s. The projects achieved some success but were abandoned, ironically due to the abundance of oil which was being discovered and mined.
Hydrogen power produces only water whilst offering the potential to power rockets! The possibility of switching to this type of power would mean a massive drop in harmful pollutants around the world. This is something that many environmentalists are pushing towards before it is too late.
A hydrogen powered car mixes hydrogen with oxygen and ignites it with a spark. This is very similar to the process used in the normal fossil fuel engines. However, hydrogen has proved difficult to store in a car and it has been necessary to develop fuel cells for this purpose. These are presently expensive and increase the price of your average car dramatically.
The two main obstacles to utilizing hydrogen powered vehicles are:
- Safety: Hydrogen is a light gas and exists naturally in the environment; mixed with other elements. Once it has been isolated it can be mixed with oxygen but the slightest spark will ignite the mix. Hydrogen tanks are, at the minimum, double skinned but there is still a substantial risk of explosion in an accident.
- Infrastructure: The cost to create an infrastructure which would allow drivers to refill when needed is huge. At present there are few garages which are able to distribute hydrogen and without an increase in this the idea of cars powered by hydrogen will remain a concept.
Vehicles are already in production and will be available soon. The government needs to see the potential in this technology and the freedom it could provide to a nation; they will then need to assist with establishing an infrastructure to support it. It is possible that this technology could not just save the nation; it might actually save the world!
These have also been in existence for a considerable amount of time but the technology has some serious limitations. An air powered engine works on the same basis as a gasoline powered engine but air is used to move the pistons instead of a petrol/air explosion. For this to happen the air needs to be compressed and the pressure required is not yet possible at home. Additionally these vehicles are relatively slow and will not cover the same distance as a hydrogen fuel cell powered car. Whilst there is scope for the air car to become a bigger player in the automobile market it is not yet in a position to provide a complete solution.
Saving a nation or the world is a grand statement but is actually feasible. Hydrogen powered vehicles are possible and can be a practical alternative to the traditionally powered vehicle. There are potential higher maintenance costs and production costs and these will need to be addressed, but as a solution to dependence on both fossil fuels and other nations it is an expense that is worth justifying. As with many new technologies the cost will come down fairly quickly and the more mainstream the technology becomes the more improvements will be made in this field. The infrastructure is already starting to be put into place. Should this technology be coupled with the autonomous vehicles that are starting to appear it may actually be possible to reduce accident casualties. All whilst emitting nothing more harmful than water!