The race is on to become the 21st century’s leading fuel cell car manufacturer between automotive giants General Motors and DaimlerChrysler.
GM is to have a fuel cell powered car with a 250-mile range, based on the Zafira MPV, in full production by 2004.
By a similar date, a future model of DaimlerChrysler’s New Electric Car (Necar) should be commercially available. By 2002 DaimlerChrysler will already be selling fuel cell buses.
The Zafira uses a GM developed fuel cell stack with some 200 separate cells wired in series. It sits underneath the rear seat with a vacuum insulated tank that cryogenically stores 5kg of hydrogen.
The latest Necar model, Necar 4, is already being tested at Munich airport to transport pilots and VIPs. Necar 4 is based on the Mercedes A-class compact car and can go up to 90 mph and travel 280 miles before refuelling. Like the Zafira, the Necar 4 houses the fuel cell system in the vehicle’s floor.
Emission free cars are seen as essential to fight the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide levels from transport will be unacceptable in 30 years if the internal combustion engine continues to be used, according to predictions.
By 2030, 800 million to 1.6 billion vehicles are expected to be on the world’s roads. An infrastructure of filling stations dispensing hydrogen gas is required to support the fuel cell car population.
The Zafira and the Necar will both overcome this medium-term infrastructure difficulty by extracting their own hydrogen, using a reformer system, from a source such as petrol. The disadvantage of this is that carbon dioxide is a by-product of the reforming process.
Toyota and Honda are also working on fuel cell cars. In addition, both have petrol/electric hybrid cars already on the market: the Toyota Prius saloon costs costs £14,000, while the Honda Insight coupe is £17,000.
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