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Hydrogen FCVs are the Ultimate Goal – Electric Vehicle Routing Option 6

Date:07-30 08:22 Source:Internet Info Agency Authour:Li Anding

The Earth has abundant reserves of Hydrogen, and the energy it produces is clear of emissions. As a result, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCV) are the ultimate goal of new energy vehicle development, and this is the technical high ground all auto giants are making great efforts to capture.

In July 1997, I saw the first-generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) developed by Mercedes Benz in its R&D center in Stuttgart, which was also the first hydrogen FCV in the world. The fuel cell was still huge then. In a medium-sized van MB100, the whole interior other than the driver seat in the front was occupied by enormous fuel cell battery packs.

By 2010, Mercedes Benz had begun to test sales of its hydrogen FCV model F-CELL in the European and American markets. Its “Around the World in 125 Day” Demonstration Fleet also reached Shanghai in the same year. On the broad streets of Shanghai Expo’s exhibition area, I test drove Mercedes Benz’s latest hydrogen FCV model, which turned out to be quiet, smooth and full of power. Its hydrogen fuel cell driving system can output 100kw power. The car can drive 400km on a single fueling that takes just 3 minutes.

GM was formerly the multinational corporation with the largest investment in R&D of hydrogen FCVs. In July 2003, I test drove the Hy-wire in Detroit, which was GM’s second-generation hydrogen FCV concept car. It turned out to be a new-tech product that was most distinctive from a conventional vehicle. Abandoning 'essential' components of traditional vehicles, including steering wheel, gearbox, and drive shaft, the Hy-wire simply refined the automobiles by enabling electrical signal wire transmission technology totally controlled by software.

By 2008, GM had introduced its fourth-generation hydrogen FCV model, with road shows in Shanghai. After President Obama took office, the preference in the U.S. shifted to all-electric vehicles. However, once again on its feet after the financial storm, the new GM will continue its efforts in the R&D of hydrogen FCVs.

Recently, Toyota’s Vice President Yasumori Ihara told me that Toyota’s hydrogen FCVs already lead the world, with costs reducing from the original 300 million yen to 10 million yen (about RMB 610,000 yuan). Toyota’s hydrogen storage tank technology is also mature, and is expected to be commercialized soonest. The technology enables to refuel a Toyota hydrogen FCV in three minutes and can power it to run 500km.

Volkswagen, Honda and BMW are also working on hydrogen FCVs. Germany and Japan have announced their plans to build 1,000 hydrogen refueling stations. In the United States, hydrogen refueling stations will also be built along highways.

In China, R&D into hydrogen FCVs is also in progress, though it lacks official promotion and investment. Starting its R&D in hydrogen FCVs in 2006, SAIC signed a joint statement in Germany with Volkswagen to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology, and the investment is said to have exceeded RMB 1 billion yuan. Constrained by technology, cost and infrastructure, the goal for commercialization of hydrogen FCVs on the international level has been postponed from 2014 to 2017, says Yu Zhuoping, Dean of School of Automotive Studies, Tongji University. Achievement of this goal depends on a further reduction in the use of platinum as a catalyst in fuel cells. It also requires prolonged fuel cell battery life of up to 5,000 hours (equivalent to 200,000km mileage), improved dynamic stability, and better large-scale hydrogen production and storage technology.

According to Yu Zhuoping, Tongji University and SAIC have co-developed hydrogen fuel cell batteries that ranked third in the 2011 Michelin Challenge Bibendum. Compared with world-leading technologies, we still need improvements to the fuel cell battery and hydrogen storage tank, but we have already mastered the basic technology.

SAIC’s new generation FCV will begin its “China Tour” this autumn, according to Yu Zhuoping.

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