Hydrogen has long been a candidate to substitute oil derivatives in the tanks of motor vehicles. Thanks to innovations that have drastically reduced the cost of its application, this possibility has now become concrete. The automobile and oil industries, which are the villains of climatic changes, will be the stage for this disruption.
From the 1.1 billion of motorized vehicles in the world, 95% are supplied with oil derivatives. They are responsible for 14% of the global emission of greenhouse effect gases. In the United States the percentage reaches 28%. Every year about 90 million new vehicles come to the market.
As emergent countries grow, the population’s access to motor vehicles increases exacerbating the problem. The Brazilian fleet of automotive vehicles has doubled in the last decade, exceeding, in 2014, 41 million units. During this period, the emissions of vehicles used for transport of loads and passengers increased 56% in tons of Co2, while the country’s total emission dropped by 43% (see here).
The automobile industry has, then, been contrary to sustainable development. The climatic changes alarm has recently sounded so loud that, in Paris, for the first time, a worldwide conference on climate reached a consensus, with all countries committing themselves to targets for the reduction of emissions and to containing the global heating.
Cornered by a legislation increasingly restrictive, the vehicles manufacturers have invested in new technology to reduce the emissions of combustion engines, which may minimize but not resolve the problem. Alternative products such as totally electric, hybrid, and hydrogen-run vehicles have been developed.
By launching the Mirai, Toyota has doubled its bets in hydrogen. The State of California was chosen for the Mirai launching out of Japan, as the local government and the local suppliers are committed to creating an infrastructure of fuel supplying points (which already happens in Japan). Hyundai, Honda (in partnership with GM), and Nissan (with Daimler and Ford) also have hydrogen-run models, although not yet offered to the common consumer.
The hydrogen-run cars are actually electric cars, having the particularity of loading their batteries in a few minutes through the generation of energy caused by the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. They do not take hours to recharge, which is one of the main limitations of the totally electric cars. The hydrogen is compressed in tanks or cells guaranteeing a similar autonomy to the gasoline-run vehicles. The process functions well even in heavy vehicles.
As with all innovations, the hydrogen-run car has to breach some barriers. One of them is the necessity to create a supply infrastructure from scratch. Another concerns the production of hydrogen. Currently, it is mostly extracted from natural gas, which contributes to the Co2 emission. This reduces the environmental profit gained with the use of the vehicle. The good news is that there are clean and sustainable processes for hydrogen production, through the extraction of gases from garbage and dejections, for example.
Many doubt the industry will have the will to promote this disruption. It is even possible that the marketing has gone ahead of the facts. But this distance between the words and the facts has been shortening. Looking at the future, the manufacturers know that change is irreversible and that they need to keep moving. Not to be left behind, or to try and dictate the new age standard.