RAC Cars News


Alternative alternative fuels?

By raccars Published

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Most of us are by now aware of electric cars. The government is backing them with a £5,000 subsidy and it seems that every manufacturer either has or is developing a model. With all this activity, you might think that electric vehicles (EVs), are set to become the car of choice in the future but the cold, hard statistics tell a slightly different story. UK drivers bought a total of 2,500 EVs in 2013. Optimists would point to the fact that this represented a near doubling of sales when compared with 2012, but the fact is that these sales figures barely register in the bigger picture. To put the figures in perspective, they represent around 0.1% of the total 2013 sales of 2.26 million vehicles.

The problem is that the technology of EVs is not advancing as quickly as the industry would like. Charging times from domestic supplies are still measured in hours rather than minutes, never mind the seconds it takes to refuel a petrol car. The availability of rapid charging stations, meanwhile, is limited to say the least.

Range is the second main problem of EVs. Again, this has not progressed significantly in the last few years and remains stuck at around 100 miles. It is not just the actual figure that is the issue. The uncertainty also introduces what the EV industry knows as ‘range anxiety.’ This occurs because the actual range of the EV can decrease dramatically due to low temperatures or the driver using additional power for things like heaters, infotainment systems or simply being a little heavy with the accelerator pedal.

The high purchase price of EVs is also an issue. Even with the £5,000 Government incentive, they remain more expensive than their petrol or diesel counterparts and with the potential for changing technologies, resale values are uncertain.

It is not certain, then, that EVs can effectively take the place of traditional petrol and diesel cars but are there any alternatives out there? Actually, there are many. They include liquid nitrogen, compressed air and sustainable hydrocarbons, such as biodiesel or ethanol. All have their issues but perhaps the most promising prospect is hydrogen. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and as such, is inexhaustible. It can be used in a fuel cell to produce electricity to power cars or can be used directly as a fuel in an internal combustion engine. In either case, the waste product is only water and range and refuelling times are similar to petrol cars. Could it be that the real alternative fuel is all around us?

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