Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

I refer to Ian Fraser's letter (“Hydrogen power the answer”, November 22). I am not sure where he gets his information regarding the range of the latest electrical vehicles. As battery technology has improved the range of some vehicles now comfortably exceeds 500km, approaching what most people will do on a full tank of petrol.

In addition, with the roll-out of fast charging stations along the major roads, N2 in the southern Cape and the N1, it is now possible to travel quite significant distances in a day, albeit with a compulsory stop for a charging break and coffee every two to three hours, which is actually a good thing.

I do, however, agree that electric vehicles (EV) will not be the primary vehicle of most South Africans, but mostly a second vehicle for the 90% of the time we travel less than 200km a day, which is comfortably within the range of most EVs on the market today.

What he has not addressed, or may not be aware off, is the efficiency of EVs vs fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). In an EV with a battery and electric motor and 100kWh of electric energy, as much as 69kWh is available to drive the wheels and propel the vehicle. However, if you start with 100kWh and then put that through an electrolyser to produce hydrogen, compress the gas into a tank, transfer it to the vehicle, run it through a fuel cell and electric motor, only about 20kWh of the original 100kWh is available to drive the vehicle. So an EV is nearly 70% efficient, while a FCV is only about 20% efficient, a significant difference that has both emission and cost implications.

It is not correct to discount EVs as irrelevant and costly. They are much better positioned than FCVs for the passenger and light delivery vehicle markets, even in SA. Where FCVs may have an advantage is for larger freight delivery, but even here new battery technology could make this a toss-up in future.

For the record, I did drive a Nissan Leaf for three years before I had to leave it behind when I moved to my current job.

Prof Wikus van Niekerk
University of Stellenbosch

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