Hi Doc. I haven’t been in touch for a while due to my various travels, but due to family reasons, I recently bought a new car ñ in Poland. Like one of your other readers, there wasn’t a single diesel car to be seen in the many showrooms that I visited, and the salesmen were obviously trained only to sell petrol vehicles. When I said I wanted a diesel, I was told they were stopping selling these in Poland, and if I bought one it would be worthless in a couple of years! It finally got a bit better, as both Mazda and Kia advised me of the new AdBlue diesel engines that they were releasing, and that I thought that I wanted, after reading your articles on developments that may largely eliminate NOx gases from diesel exhausts.
Anyway, finally I eventually bought a very ìlightî hybrid 2.0-litre diesel Sportage, and my first journey was from Warsaw to Cherbourg, in order to catch a ferry to Dublin ñ a distance approaching some 2,000 kilometres. The Sportage’s consumption was around 39mpg, cruising at speeds significantly higher than the UK’s 70mph limit, with approximately half of the autobahns I drove on in Germany having no speed limit. This was some 9mpg better than my Ford Kuga had delivered during the same journey the year before.
That’s my good news! However, I have some questions about making such a journey in the cars presently being supported by manufacturers and governments. What would be the consumption of the 2.0- or 2.5-litre hybrid petrol cars that are being actively promoted today? On long, fast journeys, plug-in petrol hybrids simply deliver the fuel consumption of the petrol engines installed. How would it be possible to make this sort of journey in an electric vehicle, though, without taking an extended holiday? The plan to go 100 per cent electric in the next 20 years is surely questionable? Battery performance has indeed improved, but I would have thought it questionable that we are going to see the massive improvements necessary to be able to compare the convenience of fuel and electric cars, outside of the cities. Plus, batteries make use of what are described as rare metals, which we can assume may only be around for a limited amount of time. Then we have the estimate in France that they will require five new nuclear power stations for going electric!
My final question is regarding why there is so little development in fuel-cell cars, that have been around now for at least ten years. Yes, there has to be an investment made in the conversion of hydrogen, but, as we are basically surrounded by this stuff in the air and water, it shouldn’t be beyond scientific capabilities to develop small local processing plants to feed the necessary fuel supply infrastructure. Recently it was shown that hydrogen-based fuels can be used to replace natural gas, making use of the latest pipework already installed. And the exhaust from such hydrogen engines is just H2O. So why are governments and manufacturers so fixated on an electric car future? I’ve only skimmed the surface of the problems that battery technology will cause, or am I missing something? In conclusion, it is not the first time I have used Diesel Car magazine to help me choose my latest diesel car, so many thanks for your advice,
Hello Bill, I remember you well and your various Polish adventures. Good to hear from you again, and interesting to have an update on your motoring activities.
It is an interesting machine, the “light hybrid” Sportage, which unfortunately DC has not yet tested on UK roads, but did at the carís international launch in September. I think your 39mpg at a fairly rapid cruising speed is pretty good. I would be interested to hear if there are any interesting spin-offs from the 48-Volt electrics, by the way. But, as you say, swap the 2.0 CRDi (very good engine, I believe) for a 2.5-litre petrol, or even a good 1.6-litre petrol turbo say, like Kia’s own 1.6 T-GDi, and you’re surely looking at 25 to 30mpg at best on a fast cruise like you described. Honest John’s Real MPG survey gives owner reports for the straight 1.6 T-GDI of an average of about 32mpg (ranging from 26mpg to 35mpg), so I imagine that in fast cruising the 26mpg is probably what you would expect ñ or exactly two-thirds of what you got in your light hybrid!
Regarding electric cars and fuel-cell/hydrogen cars, I think you’ll probably be pretty familiar with my cynicism on the subject. Any electric car is only as green as the electricity that it uses, and there’s quite a lot of energy lost between the power station and the wheels. The faster you charge the battery, the shorter its life, and the greater the power losses, mostly as heat. That is why they really need cooling systems for vital parts of the electrics. Nissan has run into fast charging problems with the latest Leaf (no cooling system), and it won’t manage more than one full fast charge on a long motorway type journey, as the whole power unit and battery can easily get overheated and will then only accept slow charging.
Things are obviously not working out as well as once expected in the fuel-cell and hydrogen power world. I know from a German friend that development cars have been tested on the roads of Germany for something like 6 or 7 years, yet nothing significant has arrived on the market. There is, of course, the hydrogen distribution problem, and I have seen recent reports that suggest that heavy goods transport is probably a better home for hydrogen technology ñ either in fuel-cells, or using hydrogen in modified internal combustion engines. Haulage operators all have bulk diesel tanks which could be replaced with hydrogen storage tanks, with the prospect of the same sort of bulk deliveries and frequency as diesel, and I think there is serious work going on in this area.
Of course, like fossil fuels, there is still an emissions (and cost) problem when the hydrogen is made, although the steam reforming of methane and natural gas is a pretty clean process. But the attraction of liquid hydrogen as a fuel (accepting that it needs keeping very cold, at minus 253 degrees Celsius!) is the very low storage pressure of just 75psi, and the energy density, which is around four times that of diesel fuel. So you only need maybe a 50-litre tank to give you a range of over 1,000 miles in a car, and the bonus with HGVs of relatively compact tanks with huge potential ranges, meaning little necessity to fuel up “on the road” is significant. Also, whilst hydrogen costs more per unit of weight, you get a lot more energy, so the actual cost per unit of energy is not too different ñ although I imagine that lower taxation (at present) of hydrogen fuel is one of the main reasons.
I will try and dig into the latest news on fuel-cells and see what the position is. In the meantime, I thank you very much for your communication, and I wish you all the very best.
My best regards,