A hydrogen fuel-cell bus in China. Picture: ALLAN SECCOMBE
A hydrogen fuel-cell bus in China. Picture: ALLAN SECCOMBE

I refer to David Furlonger’s article on electric cars, and the comments by George Mienie (“Electric cars will take off in SA when the state incentivises them, says report”, November 17).

There is no justification for our hard-earned taxes to be spent on supporting the electric vehicle (EV) market. While such vehicles will have a future as small inner city transport, there is no technical likelihood that large battery-powered transport vehicles such as trucks and buses will be a viable option.

The hype about battery vehicles is already exaggerated. Yes, of course the present range of EVs is much better than 100km. But this is damning with faint praise.

(Note the unimpressive performance of the EV test reported in Business Days Motoring supplement a month or so ago. While the article spun the trip as a success, the fact is that it only just made it back to Harrismith from Durban, and then about two hours was required for recharging — in both directions. This is not an acceptable delay in motoring journeys, and now it is proposed that it will be acceptable to stop every 200km for recharging?)

Batteries have several serious disadvantages. They are extremely heavy for their energy capacity, and they also lose charge capacity at steady rate from first operation.  (After 12-18 months of usage the vehicle in the report would not make it to Harrismith on one charge.)

Batteries are expensive to replace, and when spent contain noxious chemicals that are not recyclable and have to somehow be disposed of in a safe manner. This presents a serious ecological problem. Furthermore, while it is cheaper to charge a battery with electricity that to fill a tank with fuel (at present), we also need to take into account regular battery replacement. When this expense is factored in the life cycle cost does not look so attractive.

Mienie mentions the uptake of EVs “globally”.  This is driven by large numbers of EVs that only operate over short ranges within cities or their close environs.  The long haul obstacles remain a problem. Here in Africa we customarily travel much longer distances over unpopulated countryside.

The future of road vehicles is in the hydrogen technologies. Hydrogen-powered vehicles are already well established in most world economies. The range of hydrogen-powered vehicles is equivalent to fossil fuel vehicles and refilling takes a couple of minutes.

Due to economies of scale, costs are rapidly approaching equivalence with conventional vehicles and, there are no polluting gasses or materials involved with the sourcing, distribution, and operation of hydrogen. This is an entirely green technology and we can effectively power the largest of vehicles with hydrogen, which is also demonstrably much safer to use than liquid fossil fuels.

We should throw our weight and support behind hydrogen technologies and forget about battery-powered vehicles for general transport.

Ian N Fraser 
RTS Africa Engineering

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