Big oil missed a huge business opportunity

Climate change is forcing businesses to change. In the automotive industry there is now a massive effort underway to develop complete product lines of battery powered all-electric vehicles, apparently with the goal of one day eliminating all gas powered cars.┬áThat would certainly help to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But I’m not so sure that it’s what consumers actually want.

It takes 8 to 10 hours to charge a Tesla at 220 volts. The Tesla Supercharger can recharge a Tesla battery up to a 220 mile range in about 15 minutes. Imagine trying to travel cross-country with an all-electric car. A trip from Seattle Washington to Miami Florida is about 3300 miles by car. That would require 15 stops at a Tesla Supercharging station, with a 15 minute wait at each. If the only charging stations you can find along the way are wired for 220 volts, then you will have to spend 8 to 10 hours at each stop. That just doesn’t seem like something most road travelers would want to do.

What if there were another option– one that doesn’t produce carbon dioxide and that therefore doesn’t contribute to global warming, but one doesn’t require ridiculously long times to refuel? In fact such an option is available, right now, in the current marketplace. It’s hydrogen. The Toyota Mirai uses fuel cell technology that is powered by hydrogen and which produces nothing but water as its waste product. And it only takes five minutes to refuel.

The nation’s oil companies have one major advantage over any automotive manufacturer that dreams of replacing gas powered cars with all-electric cars. Oil companies have thousands of gas stations all across the country. Many, of course, are franchises, but all could quickly add hydrogen refueling stations. Consumers are already adapted to the pattern of refueling at a gas station. A five minute stop to refuel, with maybe a quick trip into the company-owned convenience store for a few snacks– and you’re back on the road again. That’s not a pattern that a battery powered all-electric car is ever likely to support.

The nation’s oil companies have known for a couple of decades that climate change was going to destroy their businesses. If they had been smart, they could have sided with the early developers of fuel cell technology (NASA has been using it for 50 years) to build a nationwide infrastructure that would support hydrogen powered cars with their existing gas station infrastructure. Doing so would have ensured the survival of their industry far into the future.

But instead the oil companies did everything they could to trick the American people into believing that climate change isn’t real, or that it isn’t caused by humans, or that it isn’t nearly as bad as tree-huggers claim. The cost was that they completely missed out on what was certainly one of the greatest business opportunities of all time.

Copyright (c) 2022, David S. Moore

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