Fuel Cell Update
Lately, we at Treehugger have reported some negative things about the potential future of fuel cell cars. While I don't personally feel that fuel cells would be best used in cars and am more of a proponent of developing battery technology so that we can have electric-only cars (or plug-in hybrids with the gasoline engine kicking in only during emergencies and long trips), I feel that the recent developments in fuel cell technology are exciting.
So here's an update made up from announcements from the past few months. It gives a good idea of how far along some of the companies working on fuel cell vehicles are:
- Nissan has designed its first in-house fuel cell stack and hydrogen storage system. "Nissan's new stack can be reduced in volume to approximately 60% of the previous stack while providing the same level of power." It has not been announced yet what are the exact real-world specs of the new fuel cell, but the 2003 X-Trail powered by a fuel cell has a top speed of 145kph (90mph) and an operational range of 350 km (218 miles) and it has got to be more than that.
- Ballard Power Systems announced (Febuary 2005): "significant progress in three areas crucial to the commercialization of automotive fuel cell stack technology– freeze start capability, durability and cost reduction – without compromising performance. Ballard scientists and engineers have demonstrated a stack design that can start repeatedly from -20 ° C (-4ºF) and operate for more than 2,000 hours at a substantially reduced cost with no performance tradeoff." Green Car Congress has an excellent summary of the "hat trick" and some explanations on Ballard's roadmap.
- DaimlerChrysler announced (March 2005) about their new B-class fuel cell vehicle: "the high-torque electric motor will develop more than 100 kW; this amounts to 35 kW more than the power unit of the predecessor generation [...] Thanks to a reduction in fuel consumption and a further enhanced storage capacity, the operating range has now been increased to almost 400 km (250 miles). The components' reliability and longevity have also been further improved."
- Toyota recently announced (May 16, 2005) a breakthrough in hydrogen storage: "The new Toyota high-pressure hydrogen tanks employ an anti-leak liner made of high-strength nylon resin with superior hydrogen permeation-prevention performance. The tanks also feature an all-composite structure concealed by a carbon fiber exterior, making them light and extremely strong [...] the 70MPa tank, also designed and sized for the TOYOTA FCHV, can store approximately 1.7 times more hydrogen than the previous 35MPa tank, resulting in a cruising range of more than 500km [310 miles]"