Electric cars are being hailed as the future. No, it’s not 1901, but 2011. Over a century ago, gas-powered cars fought for early adopters of horseless carriage technology against electric-powered cars. Yes, what’s old is new again. Except gas won last time. Now, it’s all a bit murky.
Half-upstart/half-vapourware shillers like Tesla and Fisker, as well as old guards like Morgan, are tripping over themselves to electrify your driveway. Despite compromises such as limited range, heavy batteries, and tortuous charge times, car makers (with a little nudge from government regulators) aspire to wean us off petroleum and reduce the carbon emissions from our tailpipes.
And it’s easy to see why. It’s where the money is. Governments are investing in the crucial infrastructure needed to charge the hobbled beasts by installing electric charging points and giving out massive loans to companies who promise to build electric cars in their country. The government has picked a side, which means that you will too.
But there are alternatives, and not just corn-based ethanol – that grotesque shell game that subsidizes American farmers so that they can grow fuel that would otherwise make perfectly good food – but Hydrogen. Yes, it’s a bit combustible (see Hindenburg) and it requires extremely high pressures to be kept stable, but it also allows for refuelling in 5 minutes, a lot less than the 5 hours an electric car currently needs. If Hydrogen received the same kind of government support, it could prove to be a more viable alternative to plug-in electric power. The only way to find out is to invest. Just like these companies are…
Honda FCX Clarity
The Honda FCX Clarity is a hydrogen fuel cell car made by Japanese car manufacturer Honda. Based on the Honda FCX Concept car unveiled in 2006 the FCX Clarity is powered by a 100 kW V-flow hydrogen fuel cell. As with all hydrogen vehicles this eco-friendly Honda gives off no emissions and, on a full tank of hydrogen, has a range of around 240 miles. The car first went on sale in 2008 model year vehicle when, according to Honda, 80,000 people expressed an interest in the car. The FCX Clarity is currently only available to lease and costs around $600 a month, although this does includes ‘collision coverage’, servicing, break down assistance and hydrogen fuel.
Whilst not planning on putting their FCHV (Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle) on general sale in Europe until 2015, Toyota has already started to supply the hydrogen-powered cars through a government-funded scheme in Germany. The FCHV is based on Toyota’s Highlander 4×4 vehicle and is powered by a 90 kW fuel cell fuelled by compressed hydrogen and accumulator battery in parallel. The battery and fuel cell can provide power either separately or together, and use a similar mechanism to the Hybrid Synergy Drive in the Toyota Prius but with the fuel cell replacing the petrol engine. An earlier version of the FCHV tested in 2009 was driven 431 miles on a single tank of hydrogen proving that it could indeed compete with conventional petrol cars.
Daimler AG’s newest Mercedes-Benz F-Cell is a hydrogen car based on the German manufacturer’s popular B-Class model. The B-Class F-Cell is powered by 100 kW engine with a range of approximately 250 miles and uses a ‘sandwich’ design that maximises the use of space for both passengers and engine components. In 2010, Mercedes began a leasing program of the hydrogen powered B-Class which has an estimated rage of up to 421 miles. In January 2011 three B-Class F-Cell cars began a 125 day around the world trip to promote the hydrogen car and to show it as a serious alternative to conventional petrol vehicles.
Lotus Engineering Zero Emissions Black Cab
Lotus Engineering has taken a full hydrogen propulsion system including the fuel cell engine and packaged them neatly into an iconic black cab produced by the London Taxi Company. A hybrid engine powers this eco-friendly taxi with an Intelligent Energy hydrogen fuel cell system and lithium polymer batteries run in parallel. Lotus’ clever engineers have created a vehicle capable of operate for a full day without the need to refuel. The zero emissions black cab is capable of achieving top speeds of over 80 mph, refuels in less than 5 minutes and emits nothing more than water vapour. It is hoped that a fleet of hydrogen powered black cabs will be in operation in time for the summer Olympic Games in 2012.
These manufacturers aren’t alone in their production of hydrogen cars however. Other car makers offering, or planning to offer, hydrogen vehicles include the likes of Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Fiat, Ford, GM, Mazda, Kia and Peugeot. Name your favourite in the comments!
This article was put together with the help of Vroomvroomvroom.co.uk, a car hire company within the UK.