In films which depict the future modes of transport are very different - take Star Wars for example everyone is zipping around in flying, jet propelled cars. But what is the real future for transport?
In a world where global warming is a reality and supply of fossil fuels is limited it is unlikely that the internal combustion will last forever. Many countries are introducing legislation that means we have to find an alternative to gasoline. So where do we go from here?
Electric Cars: when you think of electric transport milk floats come to mind, but it's not all 5 miles per hour, things are moving on! In an electric car the engine is replaced by an electric motor and is powered by a battery through a controller. Usually the battery needs to be charged overnight. The main advantages of electric cars are that they are more environmentally friendly, very quiet and have less moving parts (so are less likely to go wrong).
The main drawback of this type of car is that they have a limited range, only being able to drive around 50 miles before the battery goes flat. While it is true that the average distance most of us drive in a day is only 40 miles it seems that electric cars were never destined to leave the city.
Hybrid Cars: These combine gasoline and electric power to get the best of both worlds. Both Honda and Ford have introduced Hybrid cars recently and they have received a lot of attention. Hybrid cars have a complete electric system and a low power gasoline engine (which runs at only one speed). The electric power is used for acceleration and the small engine is used when cruising. When the car slows back down the electric batteries recharge. This vastly extends the range of the car and uses gasoline extremely efficiently. These cars can be very heavy but the manufactures have begun to overcome this problem by using components with dual functions. For more information go to Honda's insight. In the short term hybrid cars appear to over the best solution.
Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs): DaimlerChrysler and Ford both have plans to release fuel cell powered cars around 2004. These cars carry on board hydrogen (as liquid or gas). The cars are powered by electrochemically combining the hydrogen with oxygen from the atmosphere. A proton exchange membrane is used to transport protons to a positive electrode generating electricity which in turn powers and electric motor. These cars produce only emit water vapour. For more info follow this link.
Advances have also been made using methanol as the source of hydrogen. More on methanol fuel cell vehicles.
For more information on cars of the future.
(background taken, without permission, from http://www.siu.edu/~autoclub/frange.html)
(Jetson image from http://www.cybercomm.nl/~ivo/photo.html, eV car image from http://www.evchallenge.org)