Electricity. ONLY Electricity.
There are many reasons to devote our research and development efforts toward batteries and toward increasing the efficiency of electrical automotive propulsion methods, and completely abandon any type of liquid or gaseous fuel for automobiles. My reasons for holding this rather radical position are as follows:
1. Electric automotive propulsion is inherently more efficient than any method that uses fuel to produce heat and converts that heat into motion. Indeed, electric motors are ideal to convert energy into any motion that is impelled by the spin of wheels. In an internal combustion engine, you have the inefficiency of overcoming the inertia and momentum of the constantly reversing pistons, and the friction required to mechanically convert their up-and-down motion to spin. You have the losses from heat dissipated through the exhaust and by the cooling system, a HUGE amount of energy that is simply lost. And you have the losses from all the compromises in tuning that are needed to accommodate the wide range of speed and load that a car engine has to deal with. Electric motors spin as their primary motion, and full torque is enjoyed throughout the RPM range. This will allow transmissions, and all the energy lost through their weight, friction and clutching mechanisms, to be completely eliminated from electric automotive design.
2. Pure electrical propulsion with battery storage allows automobiles ultimately to be powered by any fuel that can be used to generate electricity, including gas and oil, natural gas, biofuels, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, solar, hamsters on exercise wheels, whatever. This will significantly mitigate the effects of any shortage of any specific type of fuel, thereby greatly increasing energy security as it relates to transportation.
3. There are tremendous efficiencies enjoyed by generating electricity in bulk over smaller systems like fuel cells and liquid-fueled engines. Plug-in/battery electrics use these bulk generating systems and experience the efficiencies they afford.
4. Powerplants of whatever design, whether oil-, gas- or coal-fired, hydroelectric, nuclear or whatnot, are built to accommodate peak loads. The VAST majority of electric automobiles will be recharged at night when there is excess capacity that is currently utterly wasted. This is an additional efficiency that is truly significant when measured on a nationwide basis, and will result in the need for far less additional capacity to handle the additional load on the electrical grid that electric cars represent.
5. Electricity can be generated by a wide variety of systems, including systems that can be wholly owned and operated by individuals on property belonging to individuals. These "personal" systems can include solar panels, wind generators, and other systems as the property on which the individual lives may allow. Therefore, some percentage of the population will be able to produce at least some portion of the energy required to fuel their own automobiles without relying on commercial or community systems at all.
6. The political effects of our current system of fueling transportation has led to significant disruption to our lives, our freedoms, and world peace. Our foreign policy is beholden to those nations from whom we can obtain petroleum. Our domestic political landscape is dominated by the purveyors of automotive fuels whose self-interests conflicts in many ways from the wishes and needs of the vast majority of the American people. Whether we talk of fossil fuels, biofuels like ethanol, or hydrogen, these same forces will inevitably come to control the distribution of these fuels. Their control, however, can be broken by electrically-propelled automobiles where the sources of energy are so various and readily available to individuals. Electric cars can therefore help to restore a more responsive and representative democracy to America more in keeping with the bold and enlightened intentions of our Founding Fathers.
Research has to be conducted, both on batteries and charging mechanisms, to achieve rapid recharging of batteries, and cars need to be designed with standardized removable, replaceable battery packs that can be swapped out robotically at "re-energizing stations" more quickly than you could fill your tank at a filling station. Imagine being low on charge after three or four hundred miles of driving, pulling onto a conveyor like in a car wash, hearing a "clunk-clunk" as you're towed along, and just driving off with a fully charged battery, with a transponder in your car scanned so your credit card can be billed for the cost. You'd never need to so much as lower your window.
The Tesla, which overcomes almost every possible objection to electrical automotive propulsion, is still so very primitive and yet so acceptable despite its primitive design. It's based on the piston-engine Lotus Elise, and contains systems that carry forward the gross inefficiencies necessary to overcome the shortcomings of piston engines, A car designed as an electric from the ground up could be viable even with existing technology. It is only a very short research step away from production of an electric car that is better IN EVERY WAY, including range and ease of refueling, from the cars built today. All that is required is to have the will to do it, and to overcome the powerful forces that desire to maintain the status quo in service to their selfish interests.