By on December 11, 2017

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Later this week you’ll be reading about my exploits in a couple of alternative energy vehicles — the next-generation Nissan Leaf and Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid. Yes, dear reader, even this truck-loving rural boy can understand the need for companies to develop machines that don’t burn dead dinosaurs.

Surrounded by plug-in hybrids, battery-electric vehicles, and even a couple of hydrogen fuel cell cars, it got me thinking – what’s the most likely bet as the power source of the future?

Even though I am an ardent disciple of the muscle car, making burnt offering to the temple of speed with rubber marbles left behind after smoky burnouts, I do certainly recognize that batteries and hydrogen and other stuff that hasn’t been invented yet are the (eventual) way of the future.

Cars such as these will allow us to use and appreciate our Hellcats and ZR1s, much in the way that the car itself allowed the human race to stop using horses for work, appreciating them instead for the beautiful creatures they are (never mind that some of them are simply swivel-eyed lunatics, sent into mass hysteria at the sight of an errant candy wrapper).

If, as penance for my V8 pickup truck, I am required to pilot a sedan sized like the one pictured above … but powered by some sort of hybrid system or (once they work out the infrastructure) hydrogen, I think I’d be okay with that. Would I accept a mini microcar with the charm of a toaster? Definitely not. But some sort of machine with room enough to stretch out and interior styling not wholly lifted from the bridge of the starship Enterprise? Sure.

Do you think most of us be making our way to the shops on battery power in a few decades time, or will hydrogen be propelling us there? Something else? Or do you think that sucker will go nuclear like in Fallout 4?


[Image: ©2017 Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars]

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35 Comments on “QOTD: Power to the People?...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Not hydrogen.

    Electricity is the way of the future. the way of the future. the way of the future. the way of the future. the way of the future. the way of the future.


  • avatar

    Que sera, sera.

  • avatar

    [Puts on Cap of Pedantry +3]
    Actually, it’s the plants from the dinosaur era, rather than the dinosaurs themselves, that went on to become oil.
    [Takes off Cap of Pedantry +3]

    I don’t see how nuclear-powered cars will ever take off given our abject fear of the “N”-word. Hell, we even removed the “N” from NMR when telling people all about the new fandangled “MRI” technology (even though there’s nothing resembling ionizing radiation involved in MRI).

    It’s currently a research race between H2 storage/transport and electrochemical batteries. I’d like to see H2 win but electrochemical cells seem to be in the lead right now.

    The middle ground is probably something like a direct methanol (or ethanol) fuel cell. Something like that may not be appealing on the surface (since it produced CO2) but methanol can be produced from CO2 so it could be nearly carbon neutral (just put methanol reformers on the output of every coal/gas/oil power plant).

    This would create a demand for a new product that power generators (and other factory owners that produce CO2) could at least partially meet using their waste products.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “…it’s the plants from the dinosaur era” That’s an unproven theory.

      HCs appear on Saturn’s moon Titan also, in vast quantities, without the need for previously living matter as a source.

      Titan’s Surface Organics Surpass Oil Reserves on Earth –

      While it’s entertaining and convenient to suppose oil came from ancient life forms, the inconvenient truth is we don’t really know where it comes from.

      • 0 avatar

        Your citations of the existence of relatively simple and light hydrocarbons on a cold, distant moon (and a notable lack of any citations of studies regarding terrestrial hydrocarbon formation) has almost nothing to do with the existence of complex and broad ranging hydrocarbons found on Earth.

        This tactic is a mixture of the wedge strategy and the over-generalization informal logical fallacy. Show that something can be produced one way and then use that to cast doubt on another process without actually providing evidence to refute that other process.

        The theory (and yes, it is a working theory rather than a simple hypothesis) of biotic petroleum formation is well supported by scientific evidence.

        The hypothesis of abiotic petroleum formation is often used by quacks and climate change denialists to support their motivated reasoning.

        • 0 avatar

          Well done. Nice to see comments on ttac from someone who knows their subject matter.

          Referring to car fuel as coming from dinosaurs illustrates that many car fans think they know these issues inside out, but actually are wrong about the most basic matters.

      • 0 avatar

        Aliens man… aliens…

        And it’s probably used for their alien procreation methods. Titan is the primary repository and Earth the emergency back up.

        Man oh man won’t they be pissed when they find out how we’ve repurposed the alien luv juice.

  • avatar

    Electric with super capacitors, or some other non-chemical storage.

    Electric because it’s so much simpler. Hybrid this-or-that is terrible, paying for two drivetrains, with all the coordination problems, the extra weight, space, and expense, and twice as much to go wrong.

    Super capacitors are solid state and not chemical, so there’s much less loss of efficiency and no worry about losing recharge capacity after hundreds or thousands of cycles. They aren’t available yet in the size needed, but chemical batteries arguably aren’t ready yet either, with all that expensive lithium, all that weight, and the slow charge cycles.

    I’d guess super capacitors won’t be ready for at least a decade or two. But chemical batteries will never be the answer as long as they use so much rate material.

    • 0 avatar

      Super capacitors will never replace batteries for one reason – their voltage drops greatly as they discharge, unlike most batteries. This makes it much more difficult to use them for energy storage without a lot of boost/buck converter electronics.

      And they are already using super capacitors in hybrid buses for capturing regenerative-braking energy.

      • 0 avatar

        Voltage drop is not the problem, you can always make it a “current” device. The cost per Joules / Coulomb in super cap is the problem. Yes they have long cycle life and high current capacity but so do multiple batteries pack together.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Most likely electric vehicles IMO would use either flow batteries or some sort of fuel cell.

      The current range using solid batteries are just show ponies, not really practical replacements for ICE vehicles. Solid batteries are too expensive, too slow to recharge, they cannot be reconditioned and are hard to recycle. This isn’t just an environmentalist problem – how many people could afford cars if every time something wore out you had to throw the whole thing away, Apple-style ?

      They would also have to use DC motors and gearboxes. The inverter on an electric car costs about $25k before subsidies and its unlikely to drop much in price. Its not like a solar panel inverter which has to cope with fiddling amounts of current, these are high current inverters and super-expensive.

  • avatar

    If we can ever figure out how to get cost-effective fusion (that can scale both down and up), my money is on Hydrogen. It’s extremely impractical, cost-ineffective, and even downright counter-productive now, but makes all sorts of sense if actual megawatts are essentially free. (Hydrogen doesn’t suffer from the mineral-supply issues of the world being taken over by battery vehicles.)

    But I’m fully aware that’s far-future talk, and wholly impossible at the current time. Current hydrogen vehicles are a joke.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Didn’t Marty McFly’s DeLorean run on fusion? That was so 1985.

    • 0 avatar

      Fusion is extremely unlikely. It’s way too effin complex. I know of at least two scientists who began their careers in fusion, hoping to save the world with abundant energy, and eventually switched out of it because they realized it was never going to be practical.

      Several years ago there was an article on fusion in the NYer. It was obvious the writer really liked it and wanted it to happen. It was also obvious from the article that it was too damn complex and difficult to ever become practical.

  • avatar

    I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more plug in hybrids, there’s really no negative about them especially compared to pure electrics. I could also the the Fisker setup making a comeback with a gas powered generator which drives the car. CNG/LPG is also another option.

    However, our best shot at genuinely sustaible energy is some sort of biofuel created from human waste.

  • avatar

    This is easy, batteries.

    They have been improving at a rapid pace. 20 years ago, EVs were pathetic. Today they are the quickest cars on the planet. Advancements in battery technology made this possible. – Remember we are talking about actual production cars that are not experimental and can be purchased anywhere in the country if you’ve got the inclination and the cash.

    Hydrogen? It’s still trying to be functional in California – and can you even buy an H2 car? I think they are all leases, and very expensive one’s at that. And only in California IF you live near an H2 station, IF the manufacturer deems you worthy…. Yeah H2 is DOA.

    Battery tech keeps advances incrementally. Right now it’s still an early adopters scene with all the early adopter pit falls like paying mad money for the best, or settling for limited range and charging options.

    Again, we are still in the early adoption time period. Battery tech has been advancing at 5-10% per year. It’s not linear as it’s dependent on breakthroughs, and now there are BILLIONS being spent searching for breakthroughs. They will be found when that much money and research is being focused on it.

    At even the slowest rate of improvements of 5% increase in energy density year over year will let Nissan put a 75kwh battery in the Leaf in 2023.

    At least four corporations that I know of (Toyota, Hyundai, LG, and Panasonic) are researching solid state batteries as fast as they can. When, not if (they already have working prototypes) they get a production version going, that instantly changes the game.

    With solid state batteries you have 3x more energy density, and 1/3rd the cost and you can charge an order of magnitude faster because you are no longer concerned about boiling the electrolyte. They also don’t have runaway failures like liquid state batteries – and they are far less affected by the cold. Translation: no thermal management needed, even for use in hypercars and extremely fast charging.

    Once solid state batteries are on the scene all the problems with current battery tech will be forgotten. It’s not a matter of if, they already have the tech, it’s just a matter of when they will be able to mass produce it.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I envision electric power coming from roof top solar panels powering some sort of battery box in the basement or garage for powering the house when it is dark and recharging ones electric hybrid car.

    Here in CO, the solar piece is a no brainer, we get a lot of sun. Once the battery storage is economically viable you are good to go. I imagine a scenario like this in the next 2 decades.

  • avatar
    George B

    We will still be driving individually owned vehicles that use liquid fuel 20 year from now. Ground level pollution problems in some areas like the Los Angeles basin may force much greater use of electric cars for commuting to work. If fuel cells become somewhat cost competitive, I could see a battery/fuel cell car that allows fast refueling with methanol or ethanol with the fuel cell functioning as a range extender. I doubt that we’ll ever see Hydrogen used as a mass market consumer fuel.

    Engineers keep improving both the internal combustion engine and the processes of extracting petroleum from the earth. Alternative fuel vehicles have been chasing a moving target for over a century and there’s no reason to expect this to stop.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I for sure will be driving a gas powered rig in 20 years. 3 of my 4 cars are greater than 10 years old and I am comfortable with that age bracket for a daily driver. Their are a lot of folks like me, either cause of economic circumstances or similar tastes, either way the new cars sold in 10 years would need to be substantially electric for me and others to own one 20 years.

      It is easy to see the shift to hybrid and EV as it is already coming. To think that ICE cars and trucks will not be available or still used anytime soon is silly. One of my ICE cars is 60 years old. Why would someone not be using it 40 years from now?

    • 0 avatar

      Let’s not forget biomass-derived fuels such as jet fuel and diesel from algae.

  • avatar

    Speaking of which I saw a 1st gen Honda Insight drive down my street. First one I’ve seen in many years.

  • avatar

    Conservatively speaking, it would be a plug in hybrid of some sort. If battery cost cheap enough at least one car per family will be EV and the other a plug in or gasoline.

    No fuel cell, it just won’t scale large enough for the reliability and cost to make it worthwhile. Yes you can use SOFC and CNG or something else exotic to get another 20% improvement in peak efficiency, but it would be much easier with battery and overnight charging.

    Remember, you don’t need to cut 100% of the crude oil out at bleeding edge price, you can do a lot by cutting out 70% of it very affordably.

  • avatar

    I thought that nuclear reactors were just heat sources producing electricity via steam turbines. This seems a backward step for personal transport. Basically a modern Stanley Steamer.
    I want to see solar panels over every parking space.

  • avatar

    QOTD: Power to the People?

    I will assume you mean this question as it applies to vehicles (since that is what this site is all about..)

    With that in mind, the answer may be complex, since the “future” is multivariate.
    There will be no “one” power source worldwide.

    Are we talking Short term (5-10 years out)?
    Mid-term (15-20 years out)?
    Long term (50-100 years out)?

    For the 1st, I would guess (in order of prevalence):
    a) Gasoline
    b) Diesel
    c) EV
    d) H2

    For the 2nd, I would guess (in order of prevalence):
    a) Diesel
    b) CNG
    c) Gasoline
    d) EV
    e) H2

    For the 3rd, I would guess (in order of prevalence):
    a) CNG (Audi Process)*
    b) EV
    c) H2*
    d) Gasoline
    e) Bio-diesel (soy beans)*
    f) n-butanol (“bio-butanol”)*

    * Carbon neutral:


  • avatar

    I think we’ll see a slow transition toward battery electric, with an increasing number of hybrids and plug-in hybrids along the way. Batteries will continue to improve but they have a long, long way to go before they’ll leave hydrocarbon fuels behind, at least on merit. I’m sure those who aren’t familiar with -40F weather can imagine it happening sooner, and it will for them.

    The use of solar panels in southern regions, to power homes and charge vehicles, will increase rapidly and slowly migrate north as economics dictate.

    It’s hard to imagine hydrogen as a common fuel source in my lifetime. Equally difficult to imagine battery powered aircraft.

    Nuclear? Not a chance in the foreseeable future. It’s hard enough to economically generate even large scale stationary power from nuclear energy as it is.

  • avatar

    Hydrogen might make sense for heavy vehicles (aircraft, trains, long haul trucks) due to energy density, but for “normal” people BEVs are going to crush alternatives.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    Hydrogen came and went. I still remember the promotional articles showing Arnie filling up some sort of Honda (Clarity?) and declaring it the future. That was 10 years ago.
    Electricity is the future. Now if it will be AC or DC, that’s a whole ‘nother story :)

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