Jun 2, 2008

Electric Cars Arising; Do We Still Need Fuel-cell Cars?

Sanyo Electric Co Ltd announced that it will supply Li-ion secondary batteries to Volkswagen Group May 28, 2008. Automakers are announcing plans to mount Li-ion secondary batteries on electric-powered vehicles such as hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) one after another these days.

Among hybrids, Nissan Motor Co Ltd announced that it will procure its Li-ion secondary battery supply from Automotive Energy Supply Corp, its joint venture with NEC Corp and NEC Tokin Corp. And Toyota Motor will get its batteries from Panasonic EV Energy Co Ltd, a joint venture it formed with the Matsushita Electric Industrial Group.

In addition to these companies, Daimler AG disclosed the adoption of the Li-ion secondary batteries manufactured by Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions LLC, a company jointly formed by Saft Groupe SA and Johnson Controls Inc. Also, General Motors Corp announced it would obtain Li-ion secondary batteries manufactured by Hitachi Vehicle Energy Ltd in 2008.

Furthermore, EVs are being highlighted alongside hybrids, as Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd (FHI) and Nissan announced their plans to introduce electric vehicles. Mitsubishi plans to market EVs from 2009, while FHI and Nissan will start from 2010.

Amid such circumstances, the presence of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) has completely weakened. Due to issues concerning their toughness and cost, as well as the manufacturing process and infrastructure required for hydrogen fuel, focus has shifted to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids from fuel cell vehicles, which "still have a long way to go" before commercialization.

However, it became known in March 2008 that Japan's three major automobile manufacturers, namely Toyota, Nissan and Honda Motor Co Ltd, and energy companies had agreed to build hydrogen filling stations from 2015 ahead of FCV release in Japan, although the news has not drawn much attention.

Behind the agreement lies the fact that the industry is gradually acknowledging it will be still difficult to greatly reduce the amount of CO2 emissions even if gasoline and diesel vehicles are improved and EVs and hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, spread throughout the market.

When it comes to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the "EV driving range," the distance that the car can run powered by its batteries, is limited given the current poor performance of secondary batteries. Therefore, even if EVs and plug-in hybrids penetrate the market, it is likely that their effects of cutting the amount of CO2 emissions will be limited.

In fact, even if plug-in hybrids with the EV driving range of 36km (20 miles) replace all cars in the US, "The amount of CO2 emissions will be reduced by no more than about 20%," Toyota said.

The industry must boost the energy density of secondary batteries by three to five times the current level to improve the current situation, but some even say, "That is more difficult than developing a fuel cell."

In conclusion, there will apparently be no development for automobile manufactures without handling FCVs, in addition to hybrids and EVs, in order to maintain automobiles.

Under the current circumstances, where automobiles cannot store a large amount of power, the automobile industry is on the verge of a state, where it can't help using "hydrogen" as a replacement for petroleum fuel.

Source: techon

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