Posted on Jan 05, 2022
For our first (Zoom) meeting of 2022, club member Dr. Allan Kirkpatrick (Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CSU) summarized for us the advantages and disadvantages of the various power sources for personal transportation for the future.  He started by acknowledging that we all need mobility which implies the need for engines – engines that can be powered by gasoline, electricity, or fuel cells or some hybrid combination. 
First, a little history:  around 1900, of vehicles not powered by animals, 40%+ were electric, 40%- steam, and 20% gasoline.  So the years 1900 to 1912 were the golden age of electric vehicles, but the cost ($3000), the range (+ 40 miles), and the lack of widely available electricity made electric vehicles a specialty or luxury.  Then Henry Ford brought out the Model T ($600, 180 mile range) and William Burton invented cracking, producing easily available and inexpensive gasoline, and by 1927 there were some 15 million Model Ts on the road. 
Today there are some 250 million gasoline and diesel vehicles on the road in the US.  And a significant part of the world’s population lives in countries that have committed to having zero emission transport by 2035.  Note that “carbon neutral” and “zero emissions” are not the same thing since electricity generation and manufacture of vehicles, with current practices, both have a carbon footprint.  So even replacing all 250m cars with electric vehicles would only reduce vehicular carbon emissions by some 50% -- and that would still leave the greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, industry, commercial & residential, and agriculture. 
Where will the power come from if we want to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of our transportation?  As background, we currently produce some 10X more electricity than we did in 1950, so adding some 30% more capacity should not be a challenge, especially given the rise in abundance of inexpensive wind and solar generation.  In addition, the design of the internal combustion engine is sufficiently flexible as to allow use of renewable fuels.  There are drop-in electric motors to replace internal combustion engines with a minimum of technical challenge. 
So what are the issues about electric vehicles?  The batteries add about 1000 lbs. to the weight.  Range is somewhat limited (Nissan Leaf has around a 100 mile range, Tesla apparently on the order of 300 miles).  Charge time can be significant (Levels 1 & 2 in your house, from 35 to 7 hours; Level 3 stations, + 1 hour; Tesla supercharger, 20 minutes) and locating a charging station may be challenging (130 in Fort Collins, 700 in Colorado, 40,000 in the US – and may be a challenge for multi-family or garageless dwellings, failing changes in building codes).  Battery life may be limited (historically, maybe 5 years, but Tesla is touting maybe 20 years or so).  There are other, limited, charging modes including static wireless induction, dynamic wireless induction (wires under the roads), or overhead powerlines. 
Then there is the question of resources for the batteries, particularly Lithium (Li), Cobalt (Co), and Manganese (Mn).  Mining of these has significant environmental (both mines and waste), social (low pay and bad working conditions), and political issues (sources in unstable or unsavory governments).  Battery recycling will become essential.  This is being partly addressed by research into new battery materials including Nickel (Ni) and Iron (Fe). 
How about fuel-cell vehicles?  The background science is pretty simple:  combine Hydrogen (H2) and Oxygen (O2) to get electrons and water.  However, the devil is in the details.  On the positive side, there are zero tailpipe emissions, refueling is rapid, the range can be greater than 300 miles, and it can be used (and might work best in) heavy vehicles.  On the negative side, there is little fuel infrastructure; where available, H2 may cost $.50 per mile; and there is a high initial cost.  H2 is so expensive because it has to be created, pressurized to 500 atmospheres or liquified to -4000 F, and transported in pipelines or tankers (for which those designed for natural gas or gasoline may not be suitable), all of which require energy. 
All of which is to say that all of these methods would work but each has its own challenges. 
Response to questions: 
With more wind/solar in the future, might there be a better balance in the future?  Yes, but there are interconnection issues (e.g., the recent power problem in Texas) and storage issues. 
Is the Segway technology likely to provide part of the answer?  Segway was oversold or sold on the idea that the technology would be developed:  e.g., both Tesla and Theranos were sold “on the come” but only Tesla has apparently lived up to the original hype. 
What about wait times for access to public EV charging stations?  The experience of RCFC EV owners is that there is no wait.
What about the safety of having a tank of pressurized H2 in the back of your car?  No definitive answer but Dr. Kirkpatrick figures that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has that solved for radioactive materials so it should be solvable for hydrogen. 
Will incentives be necessary to get the public to transition to EVs, especially given the $10,000 price tag on the battery pack?  A tricky question:  it is possible that buyers with a focus on environment/climate-change will not need incentives.  It would be difficult to create an incentive package that would not be a subsidy for the rich.  This question might go away with future technological developments, especially if batteries ultimately have an infinite life span and significantly less weight. 
Since road maintenance is largely paid for by tax on gasoline, how will roads be maintained if the transition to EVs happens rapidly?  Another tricky question that will require some creative legislation and good PR.