Goodbye car ownership, hello "mobility as a service."
In the journey to a more sustainable transport system, electric cars are getting a lot of notice, as they're quiet, clean (at least at the point-of-use), and efficient. However, there are still a number of kinks to work out with the technology, most notably the need to extend their driving range between charges, as well as the cost. Right now, the focus seems to be primarily on battery electric vehicles, which require access to a charging station to 'refuel,' but there's another type of electric car that could show some promise down the road a ways, the hydrogen fuel cell car, and although the hydrogen infrastructure is even less built-out than the EV charging network, one company thinks they've got a unique approach to the market, in that they don't even want to sell you the car.
Instead of offering customers the option to purchase a vehicle, Riversimple aims to use a unique proposition to mobility, in which customers will enter a long-term lease agreement with the company, and in return, will receive the use of the vehicle, all maintenance for it, and insurance, along with a virtually unlimited number of refills of hydrogen for the fuel cell. According to the company, the current version of the vehicle can get about 300 miles per tank, which could be a week's worth of driving, and can receive a refill of hydrogen in about 3 minutes - a far cry from the hours-long wait for a full charge for a battery electric vehicle.
Here's a quick intro to the company's business model:
The vehicle isn't exactly a speed demon, by any means, as it looks to have a current top speed of about 60 mph, but that speed is sufficient for most, if not all, city driving, and might be a great choice for a commuter vehicle that doesn't require faster speeds. The Rasa is also just a two-seater at the moment, so it's not going to replace the family minivan any time soon (though other models could be in the works in the future), but with an estimated 250 MPGe, it might also offer a significantly more efficient mode of getting around.
The Rasa prototype uses four electric motors, one at each wheel, and employs what the company calls a "Network Electric" system to route electricity through the vehicle, and a system of supercapacitors to recapture about 50% of the kinetic energy 'lost' through braking, which will then be used to re-accelerate the vehicle after a stop. This approach is said to allow the vehicle to use a smaller fuel cell that is just "big enough to provide cruising speed power, rather than acceleration," and when combined with its lightweight carbon fiber composite chassis (the entire vehicle weighs just 580 kg), leads the company to claim that the Rasa is "the most energy efficient car on the planet."
The most common drawback of hydrogen fuel cells for many applications is that most commercially-available hydrogen is produced from natural gas, in which case hydrogen may not be the best green and clean energy source for transportation. But according to Earthtechling, the company hopes to mitigate that issue by partnering with companies that already produce hydrogen as a byproduct, or with renewable energy inputs instead of the standard electricity from coal or natural gas plants.
The Rasa will soon begin a year-long beta testing period in the UK, and the company intends to go into production soon after the beta program has finished. There are obviously some weak areas when it comes to hydrogen production and fueling infrastructure, similar to those that the EV movement is attempting to solve, but considering that the same things were said of gas cars back when filling stations were few and far between, perhaps it's not really a matter of if, but when.