Google Holding Back Automotive Tech

Google’s forming a new for-profit charity. That’s good.

One of their first projects is a 100MPG plug-in hybrid vehicle. That’s bad.

The word “hybrid” is rapidly becoming associated with half-measures that really don’t solve the fundamental problems which thet address. Hybrid hard drives… where’s my fully solid-state MRAM drive? And hybrid vehicles… I demand cars powered by hydrogen fuel-cells! We need to stop scaling back and doing the easy things, simply because we can bring them to market quickly.

Companies need to focus, take the hit to revenue and resources, and take the time to do the hard thing, because it is the right thing to do. GM has been doing it for nearly a decade now, and their efforts are closer than ever to paying off.

The successful Hydrogen Economy is within our grasp, and I’m disgusted by companies creating new hybrid designs that are still nothing but half-measures in reducing carbon dioxide and particulate emissions. If there’s one thing that hybrids have proven, it’s that electric car technology can work really well when backed up by an energy-generating powerplant. But if that powerplant is a fossil-fuel burning engine, you’re still polluting, and you’re not part of the solution.

If hydrogen didn’t work, I’d be less vocal. But it does work, and if companies like Honda and Toyota had gotten behind it when GM shared their research, we’d probably have it by now. Quite the opposite has happened: GM has been forced to spend time and effort developing hybrid vehicles so that they don’t appear to be behind the curve, when in reality they are leaps and bounds ahead.

Hydrogen works, and will work more smoothly as time goes on. Breakthroughs in photovoltaic cells are making it possible to electrolyze water at a much faster rate without using power from the grid. This means that soon, any gas station with a water supply and exposure to sunlight can make its own hydrogen on site. Larger solar facilities can be set up to create supplies for darker regions and high periods of demand. In the mean time, we can keep Big Oil happy by using the hydrogen they can produce by chemically, cleanly refining fossil fuels to extract as much hydrogen as possible.

The “mini-Hindenburg” stuff is tired and inaccurate: GM’s compressed hydrogen tanks can now take a lot more abuse than a gas tank can without exploding (and anything with a enough potential energy will discharge violently when roughed up enough, including the lithium-ion batteries in a plug-in hybrid).

Next year you’re going to start seeing the GM Sequel all over the place, and it will become clear that hydrogen works, and hybrids were a stop-gap. By developing/building/supporting/buying hybrid vehicles, you may have helped to reduce your CO2 footprint slightly, but you’ve ultimately solved nothing.

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