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Sept. 11, 2021, 4:02 p.m. EDT

Electric vehicles are gaining traction, but chances are that you’ll still be driving a gas-powered car in 2035

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By Mike Feibus

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Read: Buying a home? Why you should ask whether it’s wired for electric vehicles even if you don’t own one

Tesla /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA +11.00% and GMC /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM +4.03% may be on track to beat the F-150 Lightning to market with their Cybertruck and Hummer EV pickups, respectively. Shipments of those models are expected late this year or early next.

Startup Rivian will be first to market, provided it meets its latest schedule for deliveries to begin in September. And it has a high-volume ace up its sleeve: Amazon. A major investor in Rivian, the internet giant has committed to buy 100,000 Rivian delivery vans by 2030, including 10,000 by year-end 2022.

“It’s a good balance between equity investing and Amazon demand to help Rivian scale its own operations,” Amazon’s Peterson said. “Putting into place and deploying that technology is a real differentiator for our fund.”

Hydrogen fuel cells

There are a few hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road, including Toyota Motor Corp.’s /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM +1.16% Mirai and the Honda Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC +1.32% Clarity. They combine the zero-emissions benefits of battery power with five-minute filling and longer ranges than you get with gas.

“Developing inexpensive green hydrogen is one of the holy grails,” Peterson said.

Two main obstacles stand in the way of green hydrogen adoption — that is, hydrogen produced from a process that doesn’t release planet-warming emissions: It’s very expensive to produce. And it’s prohibitively expensive to distribute and store hydrogen.

Which is why you won’t find fuel for a hydrogen-powered car, unless you happen to live near one of the 48 California filling stations, or the lone pump in Honolulu. In contrast, there are 5,250 high-speed EV charging locations and about 115,000 traditional gas stations in the US.

Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, does have a place in the constellation of sustainable fuels. But that’s for applications that don’t require many pumping locations, like long-haul shipping, as well as high-torque workloads prevalent in heavy industry.

Amazon is already using hydrogen-powered forklifts inside fulfillment centers. And Amazon and BEV have both invested in ZeroAvia, a British-American company that’s developing short-haul planes powered by green hydrogen.

Read: Green hydrogen is opening doors for higher platinum demand

Synthetic fuels

If what you drive in ’35 will be a made-for-gas vehicle, you’ll have a lot of company. Which is why investing in lower-emission alternatives will be critical to meeting sustainability goals.

“I tell people all the time that there will be more gasoline-powered vehicles in 2050 than there are today,” Toone said. “So the notion that you can by fiat say we’re not going to use internal-combustion engines after some deadline is ludicrous. There’s zero chance that will happen.”

The need for low-emission fuels is even more stark in developing nations, where infrastructure for EV and hydrogen may be decades away.

One company with promising technology is Sacramento, Calif.-based Infinium, which is developing a net-zero carbon fuel to power existing planes, trucks and ships.

“That’s especially relevant when it comes to aviation, because eliminating CO2 emissions from jets is a 10-year-plus problem,” Peterson said.

Opinion:   These emerging technologies could let us store solar and wind energy

Too early to pick a winner

Getting to net-zero emissions is a multi-decade process. And because there’s so much yet to be developed, it’s too early to pick a winner.

“We want to invest in electrification, we want to invest in hydrogen and we want to invest in existing infrastructure. And better alternative fuels,” Amazon’s Peterson concludes. “They’re all focuses of the fund, and I can’t predict which one might ultimately make the others obsolete. So we have to make all the bets we can and see what works.”

Opinion: If we take these five steps now, we can ward off a climate disaster

Mike Feibus is president and principal analyst of FeibusTech, a market research and consulting firm. Reach him at mikef@feibustech.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeFeibus . He does not directly own shares of any companies mentioned in this column .

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