Emission-free, long range and fast refueling – this is what the car of the future should look like. Politicians, scientists and industry want to see the end of the internal combustion engine by 2035 and are focusing on alternative drives such as the hydrogen fuel cell. However, the practical implementation of a hydrogen infrastructure poses huge challenges. E-fuels, such as methanol, on the other hand, seem perfectly positioned to become the energy carrier of our future. One German car manufacturer has already specialized in methanol and is producing sports cars powered by a methanol fuel cell.
Hydrogen in theory great – in practice useless
Politicians are promoting hydrogen as the miracle weapon in the fight against the climate crisis and are spending billions on a national hydrogen strategy. But can we really save the climate with the massive use of “green” hydrogen, or are billions currently being sunk into a bottomless pit?
We take a look at the facts:
- No German manufacturer has a hydrogen model in the pipeline for which real mass production is planned.
- Several German automakers have positioned themselves against hydrogen. Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess recently told the Financial Times, “You won’t see hydrogen use in cars. Not even in ten years, because the physics behind it are so unreasonable.”
- Tesla founder & CEO Elon Musk holds a similar opinion. However, he expressed himself in simpler terms, calling hydrogen cars “incredibly stupid.”
- In Germany, there are only 87 publicly accessible hydrogen filling stations so far
But why exactly does the German automotive industry not want to follow this promising trend?
Let’s take a brief look at the reasons.
- At normal ambient pressure, one kilogram of hydrogen has a volume of over eleven cubic meters, and the hydrogen molecules are so small that they penetrate conventional materials.
- Hydrogen tanks must be filled with at least 700 bar of pressure. To withstand this pressure under all conditions, the tanks are thick-walled and wound from composite materials. This makes the tanks heavy, large and expensive.
- Transportation and storage are very energy-intensive, because the pressure and volume problem with hydrogen doesn’t just start in the tank. The hydrogen has to be transported by road to the filling stations because existing gas pipelines cannot be used. Hydrogen would escape at each valve and the steel would be damaged.
- Today, trucks specially adapted to transport hydrogen have a capacity of only 1.1 tons, transported at a pressure of 500 bar. The tank filling of a hydrogen car amounts to about 5 kg. This means that a truck can transport only 220 tankfuls. In comparison: With gasoline, the same truck transports 654 tank fillings (with a tank volume of 55L).
The key advantage of hydrogen cars over purely electric vehicles is said to be the significantly faster refueling times. At least that is what is being advertised. At 5-8 minutes, the actual refueling process is also significantly faster than charging at a charging station. But before a second refueling process, the gas pump must first build up sufficient pressure again, and this process requires energy and, above all, time. Therefore, only about six cars can be refueled per hour at a hydrogen filling station. With a hefty price tag of 1.5 to 3 million euros, hydrogen filling stations therefore do not appear to be the optimal solution for supplying all mobility with fuel in the future.
E-Fuels: The energy source of our future
E-fuels are currently on everyone’s minds and global players have also recognized the potential. Porsche and Siemens Energy announced a partnership in December with the aim of promoting the development and use of climate-neutral e-fuels.
But what exactly are e-fuels?
Simply put, they are gaseous and liquid fuels produced from renewable electricity. Since e-fuels basically have the same properties as conventional fuel variants, existing filling stations, pipelines, freighters and trucks can be used. This is an immense advantage over electromobility and the use of gaseous hydrogen.
Due to the physical properties of methanol, this form of e-fuel seems particularly predestined to become the energy carrier of our future. Unlike hydrogen and pure electricity, methanol has no transportation or storage problems. Thanks to liquid methanol, even remote renewable energy sources can be used for the first time to provide fuel for vehicles all over the world.
Gumpert & the methanol fuel cell
A German car manufacturer has already specialized in e-fuels and produces sports cars powered by a methanol fuel cell. The founder and CEO of this company is Roland Gumpert, former head of Audi Sport, sales and marketing director of the “VW-Audi Joint Venture China” and inventor of the Quattro drive. With genuine German engineering skills, he is once again positioning Germany as a pioneer in the automotive industry. In the next article, we will take a closer look at the methanol fuel cell and the associated revolution in the mobility industry.
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