Hooniverse Asks: What do You Think Will Win Out as the Personal Transportation Fuel of the Future?

Toyota FVC
It’s pretty likely that electric motors will eventually replace internal combustion engines as the means to power personal transportation – cars and trucks – but the optimal means for the care and feeding of those electric motors is still up in the air. Tesla is all about the battery, while Toyota and others are betting heavily on hydrogen as the energy source for future cars and trucks.
Right now we’re in a transition phase – can you feel it? – where electric motors are now becoming a viable alternative to the traditional ICE infrastructure, and cars like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S get as much attention as a new Mustang GT. All of these cars – in fact ALL cars – require some sort of energy source, either a battery in physical form, in the form of a container of potential BTUs that is liquid fuel. The other option is an onboard generation system. The Hydrogen Fuel Cell is slightly different in that the chemical reaction creating electricity isn’t combustive but through the combination of hydrogen with an oxygenator with the waste product being water. That sounds awesome in theory, but the logistics and expense in manufacturing and storing the hydrogen have so far stymied this being a cost-efficient option.
It looks like Toyota thinks that will changes, and just like they did with gas/electric hybrids they are taking an early stab at hydrogen fuel cells with the Mirai production car. Other companies have taken serious steps toward a hydrogen future, including Honda, Hyundai, BMW, and Mercedes Benz. Do you think that those efforts will be the road to the future? Or, is hydrogen way a dead end? What do you think will be the automotive fuel of the future?
Image: extremetech

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    1. P161911 Avatar

      I occasionally have very mild prepper tendencies (nothing like my Alex Jones listening co-worker). I have thought of getting a carb intake for the 4.3L V-6 in my Silverado and getting the plans for a gasification unit.

    2. tonyola Avatar

      You can do wood gas, too.

      1. LEROOOY Avatar

        You know those Red Bull MINIs they turned into little pickup trucks? I would love to make one of those into a tiny wood-gas-mobile.

        1. Vairship Avatar

          But… wouldn’t they be better with the canister still on top? That’d give you the space for the wood-gas!

  1. Kiefmo Avatar


  2. Kiefmo Avatar

    Propulsion will be electric, for sure. Now, what provides the electrons to those electric motors is still up in the air.
    Hydrogen still seems like the tech of the future in the same way that IPv6 is the networking protocol of the future. Until a means to extract hydrogen cheaply out of thin air is invented, it will remain the tech of the future.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Like Dippin’ Dots are the ice cream of the future, as they have been since the 1980s.

  3. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    It’s a matter of finding the best combination of electrolyte solutions, but I think the eventual winner is going to be a redox flow battery. They don’t yet have the energy density to compete with lithium ion batteries, but the potential for “refueling” stations makes them a more attractive option than even battery swap stations.
    You can recharge at home, just like a normal rechargeable battery, but when away, a full charge is just a matter of draining the depleted solution and pumping in fresh. It would be analogous to refilling a gas tank, and that would make it more palatable to the general public than a battery exchange. We’ve all used rechargeable batteries for long enough that the prospect of swapping your new battery capable of holding a full charge for a fully charged, but older battery with less capacity is a real concern.

  4. LEROOOY Avatar

    I’m still holding on to some vague hope of bio-engineered-algae-derived biofuel to keep pistons moving. I’ll get it as soon as I can get some lab-grown meat on my table.

    1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

      Don’t give up hope. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. There is research being done in this field, and some of it is promising. We can already run diesel engines on algae-based oil, and fuels derived from biomass are roughly carbon neutral. Getting a gasoline analog out of algae is only a matter of time, and then it becomes a question of production efficiency.

    2. Tanshanomi Avatar

      Unfortunately, biofuel doesn’t answer the issue of greenhouse-gas emissions.

      1. Jofes2 Avatar

        Doesn’t it sort of? Something something biological cycle something?

      2. smalleyxb122 Avatar

        It absolutely does. Biofuel is (for the most part) carbon neutral. Burning algae (or any component chemical extracted from it) only releases as much carbon as the algae took in from the environment during its life.

        1. Tanshanomi Avatar

          My impression was that the biofuel cycle was currently only about a 2/3rd reduction from fossil fuels.

  5. theskitter Avatar

    Until solar radically ramps up its efficiency, nuclear remains the one-word solution to all this. Smaller, more stable, non-proliferation isotope reactors, additional reactors to react-down existing waste.
    /Flame suit on.
    //Of course, by the time all of that came on line, fusion might be viable

  6. P161911 Avatar

    Electric with Li-Ion or some such battery for urban areas (about 50% of the cars) and good old gasoline hybrids for the rest of the country. There is over 100 years of infrastructure for gasoline engines in the US. It will be very hard to replace that in ALL areas, especially the more far flung rural areas. Take a look at a map and see how many areas have high speed broadband. There are still huge blank spots with enough people to matter.

  7. XRSevin Avatar

    Today I’m driving my 3-year-old Volt from L.A. to Reno for a vacation. I’ll use more gas this week than I’ll use driving to work the rest of the year. How much electricity does it require to refine hydrogen? We’re answering the wrong questions for the U.S., though they might be the right questions in Japan and Europe.

  8. engineerd Avatar

    The fuel of the future is going to be whatever is the most economical — in terms of both production and energy content. That’s why nothing has seriously challenged gasoline. Pure electric and gas-electric hybrids are catching on more for political reasons than for actual economics reasons. Will they supplant gasoline (and I include diesel in that) totally? Not anytime soon. At least not in all areas. I can see pure electrics being the majority of the cars in urban centers, but for cross country driving gasoline will play a role for the foreseeable future.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      The ONLY reason that I am currently driving a Leaf is the fact over 40% of the sticker price was subsidized by state and Federal tax breaks. $7500 Federal tax credit that comes off the purchase price and the dealer/manufacturer keeps. $5000 Georgia State income tax credit. In addition to that there was a $1500 or so rebate on the car and the fact Nissan really isn’t making any money on them yet, if you consider development costs. An EV is only practical as a 2nd or 3rd vehicle for 95% of households.

    2. Kiefmo Avatar

      As always, follow the money, right?
      So, it isn’t only what is the best most viable fuel, but that which can provide the energy companies with the best profit margins!

  9. Alff Avatar

    I like the idea of hydrogen. Driving a car that expels water in freezing temperatures would be slick.

    1. Kiefmo Avatar


  10. marmer Avatar

    I still dream about hydrogen combustion as a way to keep the ICE around post-oil. On the surface it seems a no-brainer: electrolyze water with nukes and solar, transport and store it with existing petro-fuel technology, continue with more or less today’s engines, no carbon emissions. It’s explosive, but gasoline isn’t? Of course that assumes basically limitless electricity for the electrolyzing; it’s far less energy-efficient to do that compared with gasoline until greenhouse gases or oil supply force a change. What scares me more is that there is no real non-fossil commercial-transportation alternative to diesel and aviation fuel.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      Similarly, the petro-chemical industry will have a hard time without the petro part… It’s difficult to make plastics out of electricity!

  11. discontinuuity Avatar

    Wind power! We might have to widen the roads a bit to allow for proper tacking.

  12. discontinuuity Avatar

    Wind power! We might have to widen the roads a bit to allow for proper tacking, though.

    1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

      Read down to the last entry under “achievements”. Following the Balckbird’s design, tacking isn’t necessary to travel directly upwind.

  13. CapitalistRoader Avatar

    Ya’ll are suffering from mass hysteria – we’ve been reduced to riding horses for the past fifteen years:

    By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.
    Kenneth Watt, Ecologist, Earth Day 1970

    1. Vairship Avatar

      Fortunately, the “present trends” of the years leading up to 1970 did NOT continue, courtesy of OPEC:

  14. Krautwursten Avatar

    Easy – diesel synthesized from water and carbondioxide using renewable energy. Combustion engines are highly developed unlike alternative propulsion, the synthetization process already exists, it’s an infinitely sustainable cycle of turning CO2 and water into diesel and oxygen and then diesel and oxygen into CO2 and water. The only puzzle piece left is making it economically viable on an industrial scale.

  15. Been there Avatar
    Been there


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