London, England - A top secret British car unveiled in London today claims to be the world's first low cost, practical hydrogen powered vehicle.
A new type of fuel cell developed by Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies has resulted in a two-seater zero emissions hydrogen-electric city car with an expected fuel consumption equivalent to 360 miles per US gallon, six times better than today's best available hybrid electric vehicles. The company is now planning to build 10 production prototypes and test them in UK cities.
The design of the car will be published on the web so that versions can be developed to suit local requirements in urban areas. The cars will be leased to users rather than sold, with owners paying for a maintenance, support and fuel package. The makers claim the all-up cost of the car could be as little as £200 ($315) a month.
The small city concept car, developed by Riversimple, has four electric motors and a 6kW fuel cell which maximizes energy efficiency by utilizing lightweight composite materials, eliminating heavy mechanical components and by networking fuel cells with ultra capacitors and a 60 percent efficient regenerative braking system. As a result, 240 miles (390 km) can be traveled on one small tank of hydrogen weighing only 2.2 lbs.
Top speed is 50mph and the 200 mile range vehicle accelerates from 0-30mph in 5.5 seconds. A design life of 20 years is claimed.
The networked fuel cell power-train design led to a reduction in fuel cell power requirements by a factor of six compared to other urban vehicles of similar performance and by a factor of 15 compared to other fuel cell prototype vehicles - an effort further magnified by Horizon's ability to supply high power fuel cells at greatly reduced costs.
"Many people lost track of the fact that fuel cell cars are electric cars, since fuel cells store and deliver electrical energy, just like batteries - only with significantly more storable energy per unit of weight," says Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies founder Taras Wankewycz.
"Batteries and ultra capacitors on the other hand, offer more power per unit of weight, but less storable energy. Technologies have evolved, but more importantly, Riversimple brought them together as one system, in a way that greatly exceeds the sum of their individual benefits. This next generation hydrogen-electric car brings electric vehicles into a new stage where range, charge-time and cost are no longer commercial barriers."
The Riversimple car will be built internationally using an 'open-source' production model aimed at providing car manufacturing jobs within the communities where the vehicle is used.
Because the car can be produced and maintained locally, the carbon footprint associated to century-old models of centralized car manufacturing and distribution is also significantly reduced.
Fuel Cells and Refueling
A fuel cell converts the chemical energy of hydrogen into usable electric energy without combustion, with water as its only by-product. Unlike batteries, fuel cells separate energy storage and energy conversion functions. If used as a primary source of power like many fuel cell vehicle developments to date, fuel cells can become extremely expensive as power needs impacts their size.
But when changing the configuration and coupling the high energy density quality of fuel cells with higher power density ultra-capacitors, it is possible to greatly increase the performance of electric vehicles while reducing their cost. Ultra-capacitors are charged by the car's regenerative braking system, providing power for acceleration. By de-coupling acceleration from cruising, a much smaller, lower power and lower cost fuel cell can be used.
With a smaller fuel cell consuming much less hydrogen, the vehicle no longer depends on large storage tanks, which greatly reduces the costs and complexities so far associated with hydrogen supply. Working simultaneously with BOC to make hydrogen affordable, sustainable and readily available for refueling, what many believed would be twenty or thirty years away can be done today by using an existing industrial hydrogen supply system, says the company.