The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.
By Atiim Wiley
I’m what is commonly known as a “car guy” — someone who is really into cars and prefers to have their garage populated with performance cars. I threw a fit when the Toyota Prius won Motor Trends 2005 “Car of the Year” award – it wasn’t a “sexy car” to me. However, there is the bigger picture to consider with the Prius winning the award—a car is still a car, no matter how it’s powered. There is no denying that the norm of the internal combustion engine will be challenged in the next 5-10 years.
It took 10 years for hybrid technology (gasoline & electric) to bridge the gap from gas powered engines to 100% electric vehicles which are starting to emerge on the market—the Nissan Leaf and coming soon, the Ford Focus Electric & Mitsubishi Mi-EV.
If you’re like me and curious about new technologies and innovations, you have to ask what’s next for the automobile? Battery powered cars have zero emissions, but there is no solid resolution on how to deal with the battery replacement and disposal. There is also the issue of the distance limitations per charge. Unless you’ve mapped out charging stations in 100 mile increments, with 3-4 hours of time at each stop, it is difficult to drive long distances.
The next link in the chain of automobile evolution is with hydrogen fuel cell technology. It still needs a few more years of development and infrastructure before it will be ready for the public, but I believe it’s the next best move in producing environmentally friendly vehicles.
Hydrogen fuel cells are used to produce electrical energy, using a chemical process that separates water from oxygen and hydrogen gases to power the battery supply of the electric motor that propels the vehicle. Once the water is separated, it exits through the tail pipe—it’s like exhaust fumes, minus the guilt. To date they have twice the range of electric cars traveling up to 200 miles on a single tank. They can also refuel within minutes, the way we’re already accustomed to, instead of the 3 hrs. it takes to charge the battery.
There are several hurdles facing hydrogen powered cars—mainly functioning in cold temperatures where the water used in the fuel cells can freeze. The fuel cell must also be reliable and durable enough to last at least 150,000 miles before needing replacement. Whereas the current fuels being tested can go up to 50,000 miles.
As of now there is only one hydrogen car available. The Honda Clarity, released in 2008, can be leased, but only to residents in the Los Angeles area. A small infrastructure of refueling stations were built around the L.A. area to accommodate early adopters and test the development of fuel cell technology with the public. As a person who likes to look under the hood and tinker with engines, I can only hope that this high tech wonder leaves enough for people like me to still have some fun.