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How to Make Electric Cars, Hydrogen Cars and Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles Succeed

Updated on November 15, 2016
janderson99 profile image

Dr. John applies his scientific (PhD) research skills & 30 years experience as an inventor & futurist to review technology, apps, software.

Electric cars are not New! Its Back to the Future!

On April 29, 1882, the renowned electrical inventor Werner Siemens drove an electrically powered carriage or trolley bus- 'the Elektromote' along a Berlin test track about 550 metres long, near Halensee. This was followed in 1905 by the famous Electric Victoria, which was a taxi and delivery vehicle with a top speed of 24 km per hour, which ran through he streets of Berlin. Although initially very attractive, because of their simplicity and convenience, because you didn't have to crank start them, or change gears - their low battery capacities, slow speeds, and poor range couldn't compete for long with internal combustion engines.

The hydrogen internal combustion engine was invented in 1807 by F. I. de Rivaz, although a United States patent wasn't issued until 1970, by the engineer Paul Dieges.

Electric cars are not new, as shown by this 1912 model
Electric cars are not new, as shown by this 1912 model | Source
The benefits of electric vehicles are clear and profound
The benefits of electric vehicles are clear and profound | Source
Electric Tricycle (about 1884)
Electric Tricycle (about 1884) | Source
Modern electric vehicles are compact, light and very efficient
Modern electric vehicles are compact, light and very efficient | Source

Fuel Cells are Not New Either

Old Technology

First electric car
First electric car
Burning hydrogen in standard internal combustion engine
Burning hydrogen in standard internal combustion engine
Hydrogen fuel cell
Hydrogen fuel cell
Battery weight and capacity are critial
Battery weight and capacity are critial

Likewise the fuel-cell is not new. The fuel cell concept was discovered by C.F. Schonbein, German scientist, in 1838. A working fuel cell was demonstrated by W.R. Grove in 1839 and 1842. A fuel cell is an electro-chemical cell, resembling a battery that uses a catalyst, electrolyte and fuel supplied to it into an electricity. It produces electricity via reactions between the fuel and the oxidant and electrolyte. Fuel cells continue to generate electricity as long as the flow of the required oxidant and reactant continues to flows. A hydrogen fuel cell uses oxygen as its oxidant (usually from air) and hydrogen as its reactant (fuel). The only waste is water. Fuel cells are expensive because they use platinum as a catalyst, but the price is falling.

What are the types of Electric Vehicles?

HEV - Hybrid Vehicle: Combines an electric motor drive and battery and a conventional fuel engine drive with the option of switching between the two options. Battery is charged internally

PHEV - Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle: A Hybrid vehicle with the ability to connect to the power-grid for charging

BEV - Battery-Electric Vehicle: An electric vehicle with no alternative drive motor, but may have a gasoline generator to charge the battery

FCV - Fuel Cell Vehicle: An electric vehicle that generates the electricity on-board using a chemical process

Many hybrid vehicles are already available on the market, and scaled-up production of all-electric vehicles are, or are about to be launched with much improved performance.

Even after more than 100 years the overall limitations of the power output, and low energy content of batteries compared with petrol, still remain today. Some of the issues are:

  • Electric motors are very efficient being about 4 times more efficient than combustion engines.
  • The problem is that the source of the energy is much less efficient in terms of storage. One litre of gasoline weighing 0.7kg equates to 9 kWh. A modern lithium-ion battery storing about 9 kWh of energy weighs around 140 times as much at around 100 kg.
  • An electric car, under warm conditions can reach around 60 km on 9 kWh energy, while a gasoline-powered car will only reach about 20 to 40 km. This range superiority is due to the fact that electric motors are more efficient as combustion engines.
  • Lithium-ion batteries can store 2 to 3 times as much energy as the older nickel-cadmium batteries with the same weight, but the energy density is still very low.
  • Modern gasoline powered cars can travel about 600 km on a tank of gasoline (42 litres - weighing 30 kg - energy content 380 kWh). To travel the same distance with a plug-in electric vehicle would require 6 charges or battery exchanges. For example the Toyota Yaris can travel 100 km on 7 litres (weighing 5 kg) (city) and 5.5 litres (weighing 4 kg) (highway). For a minimum travel distance of 100 km would require a Li-ion battery would required a battery that stores 15 kWh and weighs about 200 kg (40 times the weight of the fuel powering the gasoline car).
  • It is impractical to build an electric car to travel 600 km without recharging using existing batteries - the batteries are too heavy (1,200 kg; Chevron Volt Weight 1,588 kg), too bulky (1200 litres; 1.2 cubic metres) (Chevron Volt battery 16 kW·h (8.8 kW·h usable) lithium-ion battery pack has a volume of 100 litres; car volume is about 10 cubic metres) and too costly ($75,000) (current cost $940 per kilowatt hour (kWh) in 2010 to $470 per kWh in 2015).

What are the Best Performing Electric Cars and Hybrids?

Modern Electric Vehicles

Quick exchange battery packs
Quick exchange battery packs
The Chevrolet Volt
The Chevrolet Volt
The Mitsubishi i MiEV
The Mitsubishi i MiEV
The Tesla Roadster
The Tesla Roadster

The Chevrolet Volt (PHEV) plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with fully charged batteries has a range of 64 km (40 miles)(daily commute distance for 75% of Americans average 53 km (33 miles). After the first 64 km (40 miles), a small 4-cylinder conventional gasoline engine kicks-in to generate electricity from an on-board 53 kW (71 hp) generator. This extends the range to more than 483 km (300 miles). Most of the electrical power generated is sent to the electric motor, with any excess going to the batteries. The propulsion system is exclusively an electric motor and this reduces the complexity associated with other types of hybrid vehicle. This concept is essentially a standard electric engine car with an on-board generator. The power unit combination can reach a top speed of 100 mph (160 km/h).

The Mitsubishi i MiEV is a purely electric vehicle with a single permanent magnet electric motor driving the rear axle with a nominated torque output 180 Nm and power output of 47 kW. The car has a single-speed reduction gear transmission. It has an 88 cell, 16 kWh lithium-ion battery providing a range of about 130 kilometres (80 miles) for the 16 kWh pack. This can be extended to160 kilometres (100 miles) for the 20 kWh battery pack. The top speed is about 130 kilometres per hour (80 mph). The battery can be recharged is about 14 hours from a 110 volt power supply, and about 7 hours from a 220 volt power supply. The rate for a quick charging station is estimated to be about 30 minutes and there are already 60 such stations in Japan (early 2010).

The Tesla Roadster is a high-tech BEV ( battery electric vehicle) sports car made by Tesla Motors. The Roadster is the first production BEV vehicle that has a range of more than 200 miles (320 km) per charge. The world production electric car (on a single charge) distance record of 501 km (311 mi) was set by a Roadster in 2009 while travelling on the Global Green Challenge in the remote outback of Australia. The Roadster is also the first electric vehicle to win the famous Monte Carlo Alternative Energy Rally in March 2010. Independent published results from the U.S. EPA, have confirmed that the Roadster can travel 244 miles (393 km) on a single charge, and can accelerate from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in about 3.7 seconds. The efficiency of the Roadster has been reported as 120 mpgge (equivalent to 2.0 L/100 km). It uses a 135 Wh/km (22 kWh/100 mi or 490 kJ/km) battery-to-wheel engine with an average energy conversion efficiency of 92%. The Roadster costs in USA of about US$100,000 after various tax credits are applied, and about £87,000 in the UK and €85,000 in continental Europe.

Peformance data are summarized in the following table:

Electric Car Specifications

Claimed Range
Charge times
BMW Mini E
35 kWh lithium ion. Air cooled.
95-156 miles (152-250 km)
26 hours at 110V/12 amp outlet. 4.5 hours at 240V/32 amp. 3 hours at 240V/48 amp.
In below-freezing temperatures, range has dropped in some cases to 55-80 miles.
Chevy Volt
16 kWh (plus 1.4L gas engine). Liquid cooled. Lithium manganese cells from LG Chem.
40-100 miles (65-160 km)
10 hours at 120V, 4 hours at 240V.
Range can vary depending on temperature, terrain, driving conditions etc.
Citroen C-Zero
80 miles (128 km)
Coda Sedan
34 kWh
90-120 miles (145-190 km)
<6 hours at 240V.
Fisker Karma
22.6 kWh (plus 2.0L gas engine). Lithium ion cells from A123 Systems.
50 miles [80 km] (Total Hybrid Range: 300 miles [480km])
Ford Focus EV
23 kWh. Lithium ion tri-metal cells from LG Chem.
75 miles (prototype) (120 km)
6-8 hours at 230V.
G-Wiz Lion
75 miles (120 km)
6 hours
156 miles ( 250 km)
8 hours
Mitsubishi iMiEV
16 kWh
80 miles (128 km)
12-13 hours at 110V, 7 hours at 220V, 2.5 hours fast charge.
Driving at highway speeds and in mountainous terrain have drained the battery after about 55 miles.
Mercedes-AMG (2013)
48kWh Lithium-ion
6-8 hours
Nissan LEAF
24 kWh
100 miles (160 km)
8 hours at 220V. 80 percent charge in 30 mins with fast charge
The 100 mile claim may only be achievable in ideal conditions.
Smart Fortwo ED
16.5 kWh lithium ion
85 miles ( 136 km)
3.5-8 hours, depending on starting charge level and voltage used (100V or 220V).
Tesla Model S
42 kWh standard (larger premium batteries optional)
160 miles (250 miles with premium larger batteries).�[260 km and 400 km respectively]
3-5 hours at 220V/70 amp, 80 percent charge in 45 mins at 440V.
Tesla Roadster
56 kWh lithium cobalt. Liquid cooled.
220 miles (350 km)
3.5 hours at high power.
Range can vary from about 100 miles when driven hard, but can be extended to 150 -300 miles when driven conservatively
Think City
24.5 kWh lithium ion batteries from EnerDel.
100 miles (160 km)
8 hours at 110V. Working on 80 percent charge in 15 mins at 220V with Aerovironment.
Toyota Plug-in Prius
Three 96-cell lithium-ion battery packs: one main pack for hybrid operation and two sub-packs for all-electric mode.
About 13 miles (21 km), depending on conditions and driving style.
About 3 hours at 110V, 100 minutes at 200V.
Volvo Electric C30
24 kWh
100 miles (150 km)
<8 hours at 230V, 16 amp
RenaultRenault REVA NXR (coming soon)
100 miles

What are the Remaining Issues for Electric Cars Hampering Their Success?

  • Convenience problems with Limited Range
  • High Price of Electric Vehicles
  • Reduced performance in term of Speed and Carrying capacity
  • Lack of Battery Swap Facilities
  • Slow recharging rates and Lack of battery charging Sites

Electric cars are not popular because of their short, 60-mile driving ranges, compared with a typical gasoline car that has a range 250 miles or more. Clearly 60 miles is not enough for anything but the most basic commute. This means frequent stops for battery charges on longer journeys, or using a hybrid model with a conventional gasoline engine (driving the wheel, or generating power for the electric engine) to extend the range. However the range of Tesla’s lithium-ion based Roadster is setting new standards that make electric cars more attractive and feasible. It has a range of more than 250 miles, but it is very expensive. For extended trips there are still problems with the lack recharging and battery swapping stations along the highways, and the it takes time to charge batteries.

Electric cars also have major advantages being much simpler mechanically than both fuel-cell cars and gasoline cars. There is no motor oil, no spark plugs, no filters, no injectors, no complex ignition and exhaust systems - its much simpler. The motor has only one moving part, there is no clutch, and the transmission is very much simpler. Due to regenerative braking, the brakes should have low wear rates. The only service that a well-designed electric car will need for the first 100,000 miles is tire service and inspection.

What About Hydrogen and Fuel Cells - What is Hampering Their Success?

Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in Cars

Batteries, hydrogen and fuel cell processes
Batteries, hydrogen and fuel cell processes
Weight is always an issue with batteries; fuel cells/hydrogen tanks have a fixed weight.
Weight is always an issue with batteries; fuel cells/hydrogen tanks have a fixed weight.

Hydrogen Fuel can be produced from the following sources:

  • Fossil fuels (oil, coal, gasoline, methane, coal seam gas, etc.) At high temperature steam reacts chemically with methane to produce syngas (carbon monoxide + hydrogen).
  • The reaction between carbon monoxide and water (water gas shift reaction) to yield carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
  • Algae by photosynthesis to yield biohydrogen
  • Water by electrolysis process, using electricity, or by decomposing water using radio waves
  • Chemical reaction between metals and water in the presence of sodium hydroxide

Advantages of Hydrogen Fuels for Cars

  • Hydrogen is a very clean fuel that ideally only produces water and heat when burnt or used in hydrocarbon fuels.
  • Hydrogen can be produced relatively cheaply anywhere in the world including alternative sources such as wind, solar or nuclear power(electrolysis).
  • Hydrogen production can be shifted from fossil fuels to renewable sources as technology develops and carbon trading is introduced.
  • Hydrogen can be used with much greater efficiency than gasoline ( 40-60% compared with 20%).
  • Hydrogen use can be made as safe as gasoline, diesel, or natural gas.

Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuels for Cars

  • The technology and infrastructure to produce, store, and transport hydrogen power at low cost is not developed.
  • It takes more energy to make the Hydrogen than you can get by burning it - there is a net lass on energy compared with using the source chemicals.
  • The heavy tanks will man that hydrogen fuel cell cars will have lower ranges and reduced performance and will cost more than existing vehicles. User will have to fill up more often, but the filling will be quick.
  • Hydrogen is highly explosive and has a bad reputation.(The Hindenburg hydrogen filled balloon disaster in 1937.
  • To work effectively requires the development of a hydrogen economy, hydrogen technology

Comparable Energy Efficiency for Various Fuels for Cars

The energy efficiency of various car types is shown in the table (reference). The energy content of various fuels can be compared in terms of the energy per unit of mass.

Energy efficiency can be compared in terms of the engine efficiencies (percentage of the stored energy converted to car motion) and also in terms of the efficiency of getting the energy from the source to the car).

To calculate the 'well-to-wheel' efficiency of a car, you start with the net energy stored in the fuel source (e.g. natural gas, coal, crude oil) as it comes from the ground. You can then track the energy content of this fuel as it is processed into its final form as a fuel (e.g. gasoline, diesel or electricity), subtracting the energy required to transport the fuel from its source('the well') to the car.

For electricity the energy is carried in wires but a lot of power is lost through resistance in the wires.

Finally, you can use the fuel efficiency of the car itself (from advertised mpg rates) to complete the equation.

To compare fuels of different types the energy content can be expressed as mega-joules / kilogram (MJ/kg). Well-to-wheel efficiency is then expressed in terms of kilometres driven / mega-joule (km/MJ) for the quantity of fuel consumed - the higher number the better.

For example the 86% well-to-station efficiency for the Honda CNG is energy cost for transporting and compressing the gas before it arrives at the service-station.. The 81% figure for gasoline is the energy lost in refining and delivery. The well-to-station efficiency for the Tesla roadster is the lowest of all in the list (52%). There has been a lot of debate about these figures.

The efficiencies are listed with the least efficient at the top and the highest at the bottoms. Despite the low well-to-station efficiency of electric cars the well-to-wheel efficiency is the highest because of the high energy efficiency of the electric engine.

© janderson99-HubPages

Energy Conversions Efficiencies for Various Car Types

Example Car
Source Fuel
Well-to-Station Efficiency
Vehicle Mileage
Vehicle Efficiency
Well-to-Wheel Efficiency
Natural Gas Engine
Honda CNG
Natural Gas
35 mpg
0.37 km/MU
0.318 km/MJ
Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Honda FCX
Natural Gas
64 m/kg
0.57 km/MU
0.348 km/MJ
Diesel Engine
VW Jetta Diesel
Crude Oil
50 mpg
0.53 km/MJ
0.478 km/MJ
Gasoline Engine
Honda Civic VX
Crude Oil
51 mpg
0.63 km/MJ
0.515 km/MU
Hybrid (Gas/Electric)
Toyota Pr us
Crude Oil
55 mpg
0.68 km/MU
0.556 km/MJ
Tesla Roadster
Natural Gas
110 Wh/km
2.18 km/MU
1.145 km/MJ

Conventional versus Electric Car Efficiencies

Small vehicle
Electric vehicle
Gasoline vehicle
Hybrid vehicle
Diesel vehicle


The conclusion is that it appears that all-electric vehicles can produced to deliver the acceptable range but they are likely to be very expensive until cheaper and more efficient batteries can be produced. They will only be acceptable if the infrastructure for recharging and battery swap stations can be established.

It the meantime, the combination of hybrids hybrids, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen cars and biofuels are required to meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The shift from hybrids with gasoline auxiliary engines to those with gasoline generators would appear to offer the transition to all electric vehicles as they can take advantage of the more efficient batteries as they are developed.

Ultimately future electric cars will need to have a range of about 300 miles per charge, a short charging time of 5-10 minutes and good performance. Better batteries are the key.

Another technology for future electric cars that is likely is the increased use of super-capacitors and ultra-capacitors for storing and delivering electrical charge. These can be charged very quickly. Whether they will replace batteries is uncertain.

What about Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Burning cars?

The main advantages of Fuel Cells are that they can be environmentally friendly and can operate with high efficiency. The downside is that they are expensive and technologically they pose quite complex problems. BMW is preparing to produce and release the BMW Hydrogen 7, the world's first production hydrogen powered car. The tanks to store the gas are very expensive. Fuel cells and electric motors have very high energy conversion rates, much more efficient than gasoline, which offsets the weight disadvantage of the tank. Hydrogen also stores approximately 3 times the energy per unit mass as gasoline. It is a very powerful fuel. With hydrogen burning cars and fuel cells, you can fill-up very quickly with hydrogen gas or liquid hydrogen at a hydrogen station, just like how you do now at a gas station.

Currently fuel cell cars are very expensive. But, Toyota has predicted that it can reduce the cost of building fuel-cell cars by 90% and could possibly sell its first hydrogen-based vehicle for $50,000 by 2015. Honda, General Motors, Toyota, Daimler and Hyundai are among the car makers who hope to have hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2015.

Fuel Cell Cars would appear to be the best long term solution and may replace the hybrids and plug-in electrics.

For more information on Electric Cars see:

Alternative liquid fuels for cars and planes: biodiesel, ethanol, liquid gas, liquid coal, hydrogen, biofuels?

Future Car

© 2010 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    andhra history 6 years ago

    Excellent Article... interesting and informative aswell.

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 6 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Love the tables. Really supports the text above and below. Whew, I thought I wrote detailed hubs. Outstanding!!!

  • agvulpes profile image

    Peter 6 years ago from Australia

    I believe that you are correct. When all of the bugs are ironed out Hydrogen will be the fuel of the future. Honda so seem to be on top of it with their Clarity?

    Great Hub thanks for sharing all of the detailed information.

    Thumbs up and bookmarked for future reading :)

  • profile image

    EV Driver  6 years ago

    hydrogen is a waste of time. we have an existing "electricity economy". H2 is big oil attempt to keep you coming to their stations and paying their prices. wake up, plug-in, be free

  • profile image

    erin jones 5 years ago

    great article. very well written and extreamly informative

  • profile image

    μεταχειρισμενα αυτοκινητα 5 years ago

    Electric cars is a solution to air pollution problem but as stated it has limited range and a long travel would compensate with this kind of car and i think that alone is the major disadvantage of an electric car.Right now i'm using a second hand car (?????????????? ??????????) and it still work good and can travel anywhere.

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