Future car transport: evaluating optimal solutions for future transport in the Netherlands focussing on the electric and hydrogen car

Research output: Book/ReportReportAcademic


The modern world we are living in today, consumes fasts amounts of fossil fuels in many sectors. One of
these sectors is transport which is almost completely dependent on oil derivatives. This heavy dependency on
oil and other types of fossil fuel makes it vulnerable for depletion. That the world is running out of fossil
fuels is certain, but when most of the oil fields will be depleted is not known precisely. Waiting for the
moment of depletion without taking any preventive steps can have devastating effects on transport
throughout the world. With the collapse of transport whole economies can crumble and grind to a complete
hold. Other side effects of fossil fuel use are the emissions of greenhouse gasses. When the fuel is used in
transport it is most likely burned in an internal combustion engine. This produces greenhouse gasses like
carbon dioxide, hydro carbonates and nitrogen oxides. To combat the mentioned problems renewable forms
of transport must be researched and developed. This project will focus on two candidates that are seen as
capable replacements for fossil cars in the future, namely the hydrogen and electric car.
Research on new transport systems requires high priority, given the importance of transport within society.
The current field of research is mainly focused on the car it self and not on the whole car transport system.
This research will investigate options for a Sustainable transport system in the Netherlands. Included within the analysis are the car and the impact on the national electricity production system. Studying the car as well as the system will improve the quality of information on which important choices can and have to be made in the near future. During this research focus will be put on the four main aspects of the transport system, technique, environment, economics and social factors. The technical focus will be on the car itself, by determining efficiency and safety, but also by looking at a full lifetime of the car including construction, use and decommissioning, called lifecycle analysis. This is brought to a national scale by introducing the cars in larger numbers into the Dutch passenger transport sector, and looking to there CO2 emissions by using modelling. The best technical and environmental solution must still undergo economical and social scrutiny.
For the costs of the renewable car and its user friendliness must not be more expensive or less friendly than the gasoline car.
This research concluded with a clear environmental and technical winner. The electric car has proven to be the most efficient and less greenhouse emitting of the cars investigated during this project. At present the electric car emits about half the carbon dioxide emissions compared to a normal gasoline car during its lifetime and is around three to four times more efficient. The fuel source electricity and the production of this fuel source can have a very large impact on the emission footprint of the electric car. Higher efficiency in the production chain and renewable energy will have an immediate effect on the electric car emissions. The car itself is even capable of storing normally wasted brake energy back in to the batteries, and when the car is in idle (like for instance in traffic jams) the energy use is zero, unlike the gasoline engine. Efficiency of the electric car will most likely not improve much further than the current rate, due to the fact that the electric engine is already highly developed. Improvements can still be gained in the power management system the battery and the weight of the car. If large amounts of electric cars are used within the Netherlands more
electricity will need to be produced, but if the cars are charged at night during the lower electricity demand window or by using smart grid technology, the impact on the electric grid will be insignificant. Extensive safety tests have concluded that the electric car is perfectly safe in crash situations and in case of fire, but still
danger of being electrocuted will remain during crash situations, how statistically unlikely it may seem.
The electric car has only one weak point, the battery. This single unit lowers the driving range, makes it more expensive, makes the car heavy, limits the lifetime and makes the car difficult to refuel. At present the fastest recharge time is around fifteen minutes with specialised systems, when using a normal socked the charge time will be extended to around 4 to 12 hours depending on the use of the car during the day. The range is dependent on the size of the battery varying between fifty to three hundred kilometres. The
destination at present must be situated within this range, or there will be a twelve hour waiting period.
Finally the best batteries currently available with a high enough energy density can only be recharged around a thousand or two thousand times, limiting the lifetime of the battery, when used daily to around five years.
If the rest of the car will last as long as a normal gasoline car, around 3 batteries will be needed during the lifetime of the electric car. To make the electric car compete on the same level as the gasoline car, research is needed that will improve the battery. The hydrogen fuel cell car is specifically meant to overcome the range and refuelling problem that occur when batteries are used. By using hydrogen as energy carrier the hydrogen car can be refuelled fast and easily (comparable with tanking LPG). Due to its electric drive train similar to that in the electric car the hydrogen car is twice as efficient as the gasoline car. It is capable of storing back brake energy in a small battery used as energy buffer. While standing still the energy use will also be zero. The carbon dioxide footprint of the fuel cell car will be lower than the gasoline car if natural gas reforming is used for the production of hydrogen. The range of the car lays around one to three-hundred kilometres. The safety of the
fuel cell car is well tested by the producers of the Honda Clarity, the biggest danger is the storage system of the hydrogen. It has proven to be save in crash and fire situations, also hydrogen will disperse more easily compared with for instance CNG due to its low mass, but danger of leakage and explosion will always remain as long as hydrogen is stored in pressure vessels.
Unfortunately the additional energy conversions and the use of hydrogen bring with it a lot of disadvantages.
Hydrogen as a fuel can not be found in nature in its pure form. At present most hydrogen is produced with natural gas steam reforming, and with electrolysis of water. In every transformation energy is lost, especially when electrolysis of water is used. At present the footprint of a fuel cell car powered with hydrogen
produced by electrolysis is almost five times higher than a normal gasoline car during its lifetime. To bring the footprint below the gasoline car, large shares of durable electricity are needed or hydrogen from gas reforming must be used. The lower efficiency of the fuel cell car compared to the electrical car will also
increase the grid strain. Larger amounts of electricity are needed for the production of hydrogen when the car is applied in larger numbers. To improve the energy density of hydrogen to a usable level it is stored at high pressures up to 300 bar. To achieve this, high power compressors are needed and to store the hydrogen
heavy bottles are used with extensive safety features. The most important part in the hydrogen car is the fuel cell that transforms hydrogen in to an electrical flow and water. This system is still being improved to increase reliability, lifetime, lower the weight and most importantly the costs. The hydrogen car with all its
complicated systems is extremely expensive and at present only a toy for the wealthy. Exponential improvement in the car and the fuel production system will be needed to come close to the electric car concerning technical but mainly environmental benefits.
For both the electric and fuel cell car the service sector will need to adapt to the new technology used. At present not many mechanics are qualified and capable of solving car problems on an electric or hydrogen fuel cell car. Also the fuel is not readily available at any gas station, or even at home. Charging an electric car on the parking lot when living on the eights floor of an apartment building is quite a challenge without the correct infra structure. Making the car look and behave like the a normal gasoline car is already achieved.
Giving these cars the same benefits in user-friendliness as the gasoline car will be more of a challenges, especially in new price of the car, refuelling speed, fuel availability, service availability and range. The electric and hydrogen car must first fulfil the user-friendliness and service availability taken for granted with
the gasoline car, before it can win the harts of the most car users. A solution can be found in a hybrid electric and hydrogen car. For most of the car travel in the Netherlands is below 50 km per day, a range easily achieved on batteries, but if longer range is required the hydrogen fuel cell system can kick in.
The transport sector is not easily diverted from the fossil fuel path. Fossil fuels still have too much positive benefits to outweigh their negative effects. Luckily people are noticing the negative effects and change is in the air. The only hope is that the right choices are being made. This research clearly shows that firstly electric and eventually, (if needed) hydrogen fuel cells are the right choice for future transport. A lot of research is needed to give the electric car the same versatility as the fossil fuelled cars, and this can only be
achieved if maximum effort is put into sustainable transport by the people and the government. For one thing is sure when using fossil fuels, at the end of the line they are a finite fuel source and if we keep using it, they will eventually run out. If we wait till then for solutions it might be too late.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherRijksuniversiteit Groningen
Number of pages63
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • electric car
  • LCA
  • energy transition


Dive into the research topics of 'Future car transport: evaluating optimal solutions for future transport in the Netherlands focussing on the electric and hydrogen car'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this