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I’m not talking about biofuels, which require a lot of energy to produce and drive up the price of food, or other cellulose-based fuels, although these fuels will be needed for a long time for large vehicles like boats, planes, trains and trucks.
The next generation of fuel will be renewable, and will be based entirely on producing and storing raw energy.
For example, several solar companies have recently announced breakthroughs in manufacturing and efficiency that put the cost of solar energy on par with or cheaper than the cost of coal energy. Wind power is becoming more efficient while at the same time designs are becoming more user-friendly — like the Helix Wind Turbine that can be placed on the roof of any house to cut power bills.
The problem right now is storage and delivery, which is key to our whole way of life. Our oil-based economy offers instant gratification, the ability to fill your gas tank and drive until you need to fill up again. Charging the batteries of an electric vehicle still takes several hours, and your range is far more limited. People will shy away from buying electric vehicles as long as they limit your mobility.
Vehicles that have a backup gasoline engine to recharge the batteries stand a better chance in the market, but they don’t really exist just yet.
That leaves hydrogen, which could be a good transitional fuel for society until batteries can be charged instantly. There are still some obstacles to overcome — fuel cells need to be changed frequently, which adds cost, storage is challenging, vehicles have less range than vehicles that run on fossil fuels, and there is currently no infrastructure available to fuel up. One legacy of the Olympics is to create a Hydrogen Highway from Vancouver to Whistler with refueling stations in Sea to Sky communities, so infrastructure may not be an issue for too much longer. Still, people will need a second vehicle, or a vehicle that runs on several different types of fuels if they ever want to the leave the Hydrogen Highway.
At this point nobody is really sure exactly what hydrogen will really cost in terms of mileage, or when members of the public will be able to purchase vehicles, but luckily we’re a little behind the times — while we figure out how to implement a hydrogen program, countries like Sweden and Iceland have already worked out most of the kinks for public transportation systems. Our own system will eventually be part of a longer hydrogen highway running from California to Alaska and will have to conform to a broader standard, but that only makes the conversion easier in the long run. It’s all about numbers at this point and achieving a critical mass is key — the more hydrogen cars that are sold, the more refilling stations that will appear, and, eventually, the lower the cost to consumers.
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