Fossil fuel powered vehicles are a leading source of global warming causing emissions. If we are curtail climate change we must find alternatives to gas power cars. Gas consumption has remained flat due to improved vehicle fuel economy. The prospects for electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles look good, however, these are not the only alternatives to the combustion engine. There are some lesser known emissions free alternative vehicles that run on everything from air to radioactive thorium.
Interest in electric and hydrogen powered cars are growing alongside increasing numbers of hybrid vehicles. Although these vehicle are relatively new they are gaining traction and giving big oil reason to worry. This view was expressed in a Bloomberg article titled, “Big Oil Is About to Lose Control of the Auto Industry.”
Confidence about the future of electric cars was in evidence at a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) conference. At this event analysts argued that electric power will supplant traditional fossil fuels and biofuels.
According to Bloomberg, the global total sales of electric vehicles in 2014 was 288,500 units. This represents a five fold increase over 2011 numbers. Although this represents a tiny fraction of vehicles on the road, these numbers are expected to climb exponentially as battery costs continue to decline. They have already decreased by 60 percent since 2010 and these price declines are expected to continue to the point where electric power plants will achieve price parity with combustion engines. Every major automotive manufacturer in the world produces electric vehicles and there are dozens of smaller companies that do so as well.
In 2013 Peugeot developed an inexpensive hybrid car that runs off of compressed air. Such a vehicle could dramatically change the future of sustainable transport. Peugeot, estimates their cars will do 2.9 I/100km, releasing just 69g CO2/km, when they hit the market next year. Peugeot’s car also uses brake energy regeneration like many other alternative fuel cars.
Hydrogen in water is an ideal fuel source that is completely pollution free. It has the equivalent energy output that is two and one half times more powerful than gasoline. Many have demonstrated working examples of electrolysis that separates hydrogen from oxygen in water molecules.
A Japanese company called Genepax first unveiled a water fueled car in 2008. To make this car run an energy generator splits the water molecules to produce hydrogen and this is used to power the car. They use a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) to split the hydrogen from the oxygen through a chemical reaction. The cell needs only water and air, eliminating the need for a hydrogen reformer and high pressure hydrogen tank.
Nanoflowcell AG has designed a saltwater powered powered hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that debuted at the Geneva Motor show in 2014. This system works by passing abundant saltwater through a membrane in between the two tanks, creating an electric charge. This electricity is then stored and distributed by super capacitors. Electric motors in the car are fed electricity. The car carries the water in two 200-litre tanks, which allows drivers to travel up to 373 miles (600km). The car is currently being prepared for mass production. The technology has other applications including maritime, rail and aviation.
Scientists at the US Naval Research Laboratory in collaboration with NRL have also developed a technology to harvest hydrogen (and carbon dioxide) from seawater that is then converted into liquid hydrocarbon fuel.
There is a long list of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles dating back decades. Some of the companies that have developed hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are (in alphabetical order) Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Chang’an, Chrysler, Daimler, FAW Group, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Lotus Engineering, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Morgan, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, Riversimple, Ronn Motor Company, SAIC, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Volkswagen:
A company called Laser Power System has created a concept for an emissions free thorium powered vehicle. Using only 8 grams of fuel these cars will run for around 100 years. Thorium is a radioactive element that can be converted into a laser beam that heats water, produces steam, and powers an energy-producing turbine. One gram of thorium yields the energy of 7,500 gallons of gasoline. Safer than uranium thorium has been successfully used in the past. In the US in the 1960s Oak Ridge successfully operated a reactor with fuel derived from thorium and cooled with molten salts. China is currently experimenting with thorium as a fuel source. Thorium was abandoned as a fuel source in the US by the Nixon administration for reasons that are not clear.
There are a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the clean energy. Approximately a year after revealing their water powered vehicle device, Genepax shut down under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Stanley Meyers another company that showed it can turn water into hydrogen fuel to power cars was sued and the inventor Stan Meyer died suddenly in 1998 after dining at a restaurant. Many have alleged that he was intentionally poisoned. Conspiracy theorists say that big oil is to blame for a wide range of unsolved crimes against those who are at the forefront of research into alternatives to fossil fuel powered vheicles, this includes the murder of scientists, arson in labs and the theft of prototypes.
Whether or not these conspiracy theories are true, it is clear that there are trillions of dollars at stake.
These technologies and many other experimental approaches to transportation represent a major threat to the oil industry and they can be expected to use their considerable power to ensure that such technologies never come to market.