There’s been a virtual civil war happening in the battle to create the next generation of motor vehicles. The battle is between plug-ins and fuel cells.

You may have heard more about about plug-ins thanks to Tesla, which has single handedly revived the market for a technology that was otherwise going nowhere. Tesla’s foe — and indeed, that is how Elon Musk regards the technology — is fuel-cell vehicles, which run on hydrogen.

Fuel-cell vehicles have seen their own recent jolt thanks to more established automakers like Toyota, which just got a major boost from the Japanese government in the form of fuel-cell vehicle subsidies. At least three other major automakers plan to release FCVs in the near future.

Tesla is enjoying lots of momentum — its shares are up about 50% this year — and the company has embarked on an unprecedented capex odyssey to double the world’s supply of lithium ion batteries and expand its charging networks. Can they really be derailed by fuel cells? Or could the two technologies even learn to get along someday?

Let’s back up for a moment.

What are fuel cells?

Fuel cells take hydrogen and turn it into electricity. The most common way of doing this involves charging a special material, called a proton exchange membrane, to separate out the proton and electron from a hydrogen atom. The electron gets captured as electricity, then recombines with the proton and a supply of oxygen and comes out as water.

If you stack a bunch of these guys together, you get a fuel cell. Here’s what it looks like in the inside of a car. There’s only a motor in the front; the fuel cell is in the middle of the car.

Pros and cons

The principal advantage of fuel-cell vehicles is that you don’t have to plug them in. Instead, you simply go to a fuel station and refill your car with hydrogen. Battery electrics, on the other hand, require you to leave your car at a charging station for hours (or a little more than an hour in the case of a Tesla). Environmentally, while neither generate direct emissions, creating the hydrogen, and the raw electricity for batteries, requires burning fossil fuels upstream at a power plant. So, neither is truly — For more information read the original article here.    

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