As of 2010 there were more than one billion cars in use in the world and that excludes off-road vehicles and heavy construction ones like JCBs and Cranes. In the UK there were 35 million vehicles licensed or registered for use on the road in Great Britain as of 2013, and when you begin to think about how that translates into emissions and how it affects our planet, that’s a whole lot of cars and a huge amount of CO2 that will be blessing the earth year in, year out.
According to the UK GHG Inventory, out of all the transport emission source in 2013, road transport accounts for a whopping 92% our of railways, aviation, shipping, military aviation and shipping, and any other sources out there; that is shocking and something needs to be done. Without making this article about climate change, it’s obvious that car manufacturers needed to rethink their technology beyond just building big cars, faster cars or in car infotainment systems.
BMW and Tesla have been using electricity to help transform this area in a very innovative way, and although not so affordable, but as with anything like this, it will benefit the user on the long-run in terms of how much you will end up spending on recharging, road tax (which is not applicable) and saving the planet. Another car manufacturer that I recently had the pleasure of taking their car for a ride is Hyundai. Now if you ask anyone Hyundai is synonymous with affordable cars that are reliable and can be owned for many years with little or no headache at all, or regular visits to the mechanics. They have built a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle powered by renewable energy, resulting in zero emission, long term savings, faster recharge/refuel time when compared to electric cars and longer trips before refuelling.
According to science, Hydrogen makes up 75% of the universe we live in, it’s more than plenty when compared to the fossil fuels used by combustion engine cars. The process of passing hydrogen through a fuel cell creates energy much more efficiently than the chemicals used in gasoline. It can also store the energy it creates unlike the electricity needed to power electric cars. I don’t know if I’m selling this to you yet, but if we have a form of renewable energy that is sustainable for the future of motoring, why aren’t we all over it and making more cars, more re-fuelling stations?
Hyundai iX35 Fuel Cell
Driving the iX35 fuel cell, it was smooth, quiet, lasted more (369 miles range on a full tank) than enough for my trip from South London to the New Forest; taking in the amazing scenery and the forestry generating clean air to breath compared to London’s air filled with Carbon Monoxide and any other Carbon-something you can think of that is dangerous to our health. Although left-handed and not the fastest car to drive around or sporty, especially if you’re a petrol head, it still gets up to 100 Mph on the motorway, which in the UK is more than enough, considering the national speed limit is mostly 70 Mph when there’s no construction or traffic ahead.
How Fuel-cell technology works – briefly
Briefly on how fuel cell technology works, the iX35 is equipped with a battery that supplies the energy needed to start-up and things like the infotainment system and dashboard info/status area. There’s also a twin high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks (your petrol or diesel equivalent). In the middle of the car is the fuel cell stack (the fuel cell stack is under the bonnet – the hybrid battery is underneath/in the middle) that generates energy through the chemical reaction between the hydrogen and oxygen – all the main magic happens here and it also helps with weigh distribution (something to hook you petrol heads).
Moving upfront, the engine looks normal, and unless you pay attention you won’t notice the difference compared to when you open the bonnet of an electric car. In the engine bay, you have an inverter, (mounted on top of the fuel cell stack) which converts high voltage direct current from the fuel cell stack and battery into a three-phase alternating current before it is transferred to the electric motor, which powers your car to move forward and backwards for 369 miles.
It doesn’t end there, there’s also a motor and reduction gear in place to convert electric energy into useful mechanical motion and control torque, of which is nonexistence if you are used to the power of a fast Audi RS6 for example. To help the transport of hydrogen and oxygen into the fuel cell, cooling and releasing water vapour (its emission which you can even drink if you get stuck in a desert), Hyundai have placed a fuel cell stack management and processing unit under the hood too.
Now that you have a rough idea of what happens and how the flow of energy is processed, the question still remains why we don’t have many of them on the road yet if hydrogen is the sustainable future of cars. My guess would be that:
a)We don’t have that many re-fuelling stations in the UK yet, making it a little challenging for anyone to own one. Unless you live in Swindon, Rotherham or London – where there’s currently two stations, one at Hendon and one at Heathrow airport. ITM Power plans to deploy a further eight re-fuelling stations in and around London this year. The first will open next month at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington and the second in July at the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence in East London. A further three re-fuelling stations will be sited on publicly accessible forecourts and these will open before the end of 2016.
b)The process of actually extracting, reproducing and transporting hydrogen to the filling station must be quite complicated, especially if it relies on gathering high quality or pure hydrogen for use. There are small amounts of hydrogen molecules in the atmosphere and extracting that would be expensive, so chances are that extracting from other sources like methane molecules would be cost effective, but it also means once it’s done, it still involves a lot of effort to keep it separate from Oxygen before its use.
Have a good insight on Hydrogen fuel cell technology? or have any questions? Leave them in the comments below or let’s talk on Twitter @gadgetsboy