In the last year there has been much discussion about alternative fuels and saving the planet – new green deal… “Bill Gates orders hydrogen superyacht and electric car…” But are we going in the right direction with today’s “alternative solutions” or are we only harming our planet even more?
In this article I present a comparison of the thermal efficiency of hydrogen, electricity and gasoline used in mobility.
Since we know that hydrogen is produced from 95 % fossil fuel and electricity from 74 %, we can easily say, besides the thermal efficiency, that it is also better from the perspective of CO2 emissions to use gasoline or gas directly in modern efficient combustion engines than to switch to hydrogen or electric.
Are “green, alternative” fuels really green?
About 95 % of hydrogen is produced from natural gas – process steam reforming is done at high temperatures (700 – 1100 °C) and in the presence of a metal-based catalyst (nickel), steam reacts with methane to yield carbon monoxide and hydrogen.
CH4 + H2O ⇌ CO + 3 H2
Steam reforming of natural gas is approximately 65–75 % efficient.
The energy efficiency of a fuel cell is generally between 40–60 %.
If we use highest efficiency 75 % steam reforming and fuel cell efficiency 60 %, the real efficiency of fuel cell is max. 45 %.
And we are not speaking about circular economy. Hydrogen is 95 % produced from fossil fuel.
An electric car typically runs at over 85 % thermal efficiency, if we do not consider efficiency of electricity production. Coal power plant is, for example, only 38 % efficient and this would make electric car less efficient than an older gasoline car.
World electricity generation by source and thermal efficiency.
(source: WIKIPEDIA, ourworldindata.org)
If we calculate the average value, we get the world Electric generation Thermal efficiency of 46 %.
Combined with the electric car efficiency the Thermal efficiency of an electric car is 39,1 %.
And the fact is that electricity is 74 % fossil fuel (Coal, Natural Gas, Uranium, Oil).
AND WHAT ABOUT GASOLINE ENGINE?
So how do we calculate combustion engine’s thermal efficiency?
The efficiency of an engine is defined as a ratio of the useful work done to the heat provided.
Old Gasoline engines have a thermal efficiency of about 20 % to 35 %. From 2008 on, GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) increased the efficiency by 35 % or more pushing efficiency to 50 % or higher.
Mazda Skyactiv-3 Engine to Achieve 56 % Thermal Efficiency. https://thenewswheel.com/mazda-skyactiv-3-engine-to-achieve-56-thermal-efficiency/
And we mostly forget about the fact that around 15 % of gasoline cars run on alternative renewable fuel (BIO methane, methanol and bio LPG).
(source: Sciencedirect, WIKIPEDIA, EU Commission)
Therefore, the technology of electric and hydrogen cars today offers no added value to nature in terms of thermal efficiency. Since we know that hydrogen is produced from 95 % fossil fuel (Methane) and electricity from 74 % fossil fuels, we can easily say, besides the thermal efficiency, that it is also better from the perspective of CO2 emissions to use gasoline or gas directly in modern efficient combustion engines than to switch to hydrogen or electric. We lack the infrastructure to switch to electricity or hydrogen. High investments and the use of public money will be required, without knowing that this fuel is a real solution. The infrastructure for combustion engines is available. But we need to do research and look for alternative solutions that really do perform better. So, the question arises why such great political pressure forces us to abandon gasoline, which gives us a certain result with regard to nature and circular technology as electric or hydrogen. Can we let the researchers do their work, or will the lobby guide science through politics to find the right solution while spending public money?
I wouldn’t want to be misunderstood. I am not saying that we should abandon electrical or hydrogen technology. I say we should give up the state subsidy that forces this so cold “clean” technology onto the market. Use these public funds for more intensive research at institutes and universities to discover real future technologies. Is it a better battery, clean power generation, improvement of infrastructure or clean production of hydrogen and better fuel cells? I’m open-minded. I believe in a clean world in the future, in the circular economy, but I fear that today’s “green” policies will destroy the world on the way there.
Mag. Simon Štrancar