Debate in Shanghai: Hybrid or Fuel Cell

April 21, 2007: Source – New York Times

Bill NyeThe car market in China is expanding at a dizzying rate. Will the country pins its hopes on unproven technologies, or begin working with proven solutions?

In a global drama to reduce the environmental impact from cars and trucks, China is taking center stage. China’s vehicle market is already the second largest in the world, after the United States, and rapidly expanding. By 2030, the total number of personal cars in China is expected to exceed the United States—which means the total number of cars on roads worldwide will approach two billion.

The cars on display at the current Shanghai auto show indicates that China is serious about alternatives to the internal combustion engine—but also reveals that it has not sorted out the differences between real short-term solutions and long-term dreams. In their coverage of the Shanghai show, the New York Times reported that the Chinese government has not chosen among options like electric battery cars, fuel cells, hybrids and ethanol combustion, but wants the industry to move quickly to find the best approach and adopt it.

Western environmentalists have long speculated whether China may actually leapfrog the West in personal transportation by embracing new automotive technologies before the country’s oil and auto industries can become too wedded to internal combustion engines.

The odds of such a leapfrogging have eroded because nobody has yet surmounted the technological obstacles that prevent a broad switch from gasoline technology to hydrogen fuel cells, said An Feng, the executive director of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation in Beijing.

Japanese companies, particularly Toyota and Honda, are already far ahead in the hybrid gasoline-electric designs that have proved more attractive lately to Chinese companies than fuel cells, said Kelly Sims Gallagher, the director of the Energy Technology Innovation Project at Harvard.

The key question is how much environmental damage will occur before China realizes that hybrids and other conventional fuel-saving technologies are ready today—while it throws investment dollars and engineering resources at hydrogen fuel cells.

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  • elurrule

    Raise the price on hybrid cars and only the people with more money than brains will buy them. This do-gooder attitude is a stupid move that is just another way of sapping the wealth out of the US. Good luck to all of those who are duped.

  • seant

    You’re the real no brainer! You should blame the US car companies for not designing cars with higher MPG. Your attitude does not help. Wake up!

  • doc627

    elrrule, I love how you rant with no specific direction. How exactly are people being duped? Hybrid cars are more expensive then conventional cars. So what is your point?

  • Joe

    The US imports 15 million barrels of oil a day, so by reducing the need for imported oil, Hybrids help the US economy.

    You are doing no one any favors by buying a giant SUV that then requires years of oil imports.

    (12mbd of crude, 3 mbd of product, we consume a tad above 20mbd, 5-5.5 come from domestic production)