The automotive industry seems to agree that e-mobility is the future. For example, Volkswagen has announced that it plans to stop developing new combustion engine cars by 2026.
The question seems to no longer be whether e-mobility will take over but rather, how will it do so? There are two major approaches when it comes to how to power the engine of an electric car – large batteries that charge with electricity from the grid or small batteries that are constantly charged by fuel cells. Most companies do not place a great deal of confidence in fuel cells. Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of Tesla and most popular advocate of e-mobility, has even said that fuel cells are a “load of rubbish” and that their “success is simply not possible”. On the other hand, Toyota and General Motors both have enough faith in fuel cells to be developing both types of battery.
The fuel cell is not a modern technology. It first appeared in a letter published in the December 1838 edition of The London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, where Welsh physicist and barrister William Grove wrote about the development of his first crude fuel cells. Modern fuel cells (for the most part) use hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity through electrochemical processes. The chemical reaction that creates energy is the same as burning hydrogen with oxygen to create H20 (water). While burning is a highly inefficient way to create electricity, the electrochemical method used in fuel cells is almost 100% efficient. This makes it a promising technology for a fossil fuel-free future. Fuel cells are much lighter than the large batteries that are used right now and filling up the tank is much quicker than charging an empty battery. In addition, since the air that is needed for the reaction needs to be clean, hydrogen fuel cell cars literally clean the air while driving. The question remains – can this 181 year-old technology spark innovation? Further, is this reflected in the patent landscape?
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