LifeCar, a fuel cell powered concept car that does 0-60mph in seven seconds, has an estimated range of 200 miles, weighs just 700kg and is claimed to be three times more energy efficient than any other vehicle of its type.
Based on the Morgan Aero Eight, the vehicle is the result of a £1.9m, two and half year project funded jointly by the government and a consortium that includes Morgan, Qinetiq, and industrial gas specialist BOC Linde.
The car uses a fuel cell to power four separate electric wheel-motors. This is backed up by a series of ultracapacitors that are charged by a regenerative braking system and release their energy when the car is accelerating. This enables the use of a much smaller fuel cell than is traditionally regarded as necessary.
Developed by Qinetiq, the fuel cell consists of four integrated 6KW cells rather than the 100 – 150kw cell that previous hydrogen car projects have regarded as essential.
Another reason that the vehicle can run on such a small fuel cell is the highly efficient wheel motors, developed specially for LifeCar by Oxford University’s Dr Malcolm McCulloch. As well as being around 90 per cent efficient across their operating range and more than 10kg lighter than existing wheel motors, the devices also harvest 50 per cent of the energy generated during braking. This represents a huge improvement over existing regenerative braking systems that tend only to recover around 10 per cent.
The project is the brainchild of motorsport engineer Hugo Spowers who told The Engineer that it represents a fundamentally new approach to fuel cell vehicle design, by designing the car around the fuel cell, rather than attempting to fit a fuel cell into a car designed for a petrol engine. ‘People don’t popularly perceive just how optimised current automotive technology is around the characteristics of combustion engines,’ he said.
Although there are no immediate plans to enter production with the vehicle, Morgan’s managing director, Charles Morgan, confirmed that several of his customers have expressed an interest in owning a fuel cell Morgan. He suggested that LifeCar could follow a similar path to production to the company’s Aeromax, where customers bankrolled the development costs by putting down a deposit upfront.