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If being green is the new black, and hydrogen is the future of being green, will there be any color puns left to make?
After more than a century the internal-combustion engine still reigns supreme as the world’s go-to powerplant for vehicular propulsion. Of course electrics have started to chip away at that dominance but they really haven’t had all that much success. When it comes to alternative technologies will fuel cells fare any better? Well, maybe if Toyota starts pushing them.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is rapidly becoming a new Bob Lutz for the 21st century. The savvy South African is not afraid to share his opinion on a variety of topics and is at times refreshingly blunt.
Toyota pulled back the covers today at its Hybrid World Tour event in Michigan, giving a small glimpse of advanced fuel-saving technologies currently in development.
ACAL Energy, a company in the U.K., said today that its hydrogen fuel cell system passed 10,000 hours of testing and can reduce the cost of a fuel cell by 20 percent.
Toyota is deepening its partnership with BMW by agreeing to supply the German automaker with hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell technology. The companies first partnered in December of last year with BMW supplying Toyota with small diesel engines for the European market in exchange for Toyota’s lithium-ion hybrid systems and research.
Electric cars may have arrived, but the search for the perfect alternative fuel is still in progress. There are still a few major issues that keep battery powered vehicles from replacing the internal combustion engine.
Ford recently announced the EPA fuel efficiency rating for its electric Focus model. Since it doesn’t burn any gasoline, the number isn’t in miles per gallon (MPG), but was given as miles per gallon gasoline equivalent, or MPGe. A new term to the automotive lexicon, it’s worth exploring exactly what MPGe means and how an MPGe rating is determined, especially as the number of electric cars and plug-in electric hybrids on the roads continues to increase.
Only until recently did Kia find its groove and really start to deliver a lineup of attractive cars. However, Hyundai‘s vision for Kia’s future has something different in store. Rumors have suggested that Hyundai-Kia Automotive group may be performing an unprecedented hedge to have Kia carry a solely electric vehicle green model range while Hyundai continues to develop plug-in hybrid and fuel cell cars.
The motivation behind this strategy is to push Kia to unveil the automaker’s first highway-capable electric vehicle (code named TAM) by the end of 2011. Furthermore, Hyundai will continue their research and development over a hydrogen fuel cell Tucson concept set to debut for 2013.
Kia’s most recent move towards a production-ready EV came at the Seoul Motor Show, with the Naimo Concept, an electric car that’s slightly larger than the Toyota Yaris. In concept form it used an electric motor and lithium-polymer battery pack to make 109-hp and 207 lb-ft of torque with a range of 124 miles.
There’s no denying that leading automakers are vying to be future leaders in alternate energy. With Hyundai-Kia’s two prong approach, chances seem likely that the competition will be in for a surprise.
GALLERY: Kia Naimo Concept
Mercedes-Benz revealed its hydrogen-powered gullwing F 125! luxury car concept, offering a glimpse at what the company’s vehicles will look like in the year 2025.
The F 125! – named for Mercedes-Benz’s 125th anniversary – illustrates the company’s styling direction for the next decade and beyond while also highlighting Mercedes-Benz’s commitment to developing hydrogen-powered technology. Mercedes foresees a range of 1,000 km (621 miles) for the F 125! thanks to the combination of the car’s fuel cell drive system and plug-in technology. Helping to increase the range is a new hydrogen storage unit which integrates the hydrogen tank with the floor assembly. In addition to the hydrogen storage unit, the F 125! uses a 10 kWh lithium-sulfur battery stored behind the rear seats. The battery can provide enough power for a range of 50 km (31 miles).
GM’s CEO Dan Akerson believes that the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle won’t be feasible until at least 2020. Let’s hope GM calls the right prediction this time.
“We’re looking at hydrogen fuel cells, which have no carbon emissions, zero,” said Akerson. “The car is still too expensive and probably won’t be practical until the 2020-plus period, I don’t know. And then there’s the issue of infrastructure.”
This hasn’t been the first time GM’s pulled a Nostradamus on fuel cell vehicles: back in 2002, it claimed that hundreds of thousands of them would be on the road by 2010. By 2006, GM lowered that vague number to 1,000. Last year came and went, and it missed that goal.
GM cited high cost and a lack of hydrogen fueling stations for fudging the thousand-car goal. But it hasn’t stopped speculating on the next generation of fuel cell vehicles that it could build: the car will use half the expensive precious metals, be half the size, and 220 pounds lighter than current fuel cell vehicles, it said in 2009. That same year it said that by 2015 the fuel cell vehicle will be “commercialized,” and by 2022 it will be cost-competitive.
“They’re very expensive now,” said Akerson, “but we’ve, just in the last two years, reduced the price of that technology by $100,000.”
No other car company has brought a fuel cell vehicle to the masses, or intends to by 2015; Honda’s gee-whiz FCX Clarity is only available in California, and only about 200 examples are on the road. GM may have a point—but, just as we never launched a spaceship to Jupiter in 2001 like we did in 2001, speculating on the future with such concrete dates usually ends up, well, looking dated.
[Source: Detroit News]
Tomohiko Kawanabe, Honda‘s president of research & development, expressed doubts about consumer demand for electric vehicles. “We lack confidence,” Kawanabe said in an interview with Automotive News.“It’s questionable whether consumers will accept the annoyances of limited driving range and having to spend time charging them.”
Rival automakers like Nissan and General Motors are pushing ahead with their own EV programs. Nissan’s Leaf is expected to roll out on a limited basis at the end of 2010, while GM’s Chevrolet Volt has been a media darling, enjoying significant positive press. Honda, a company that has always mandated fuel efficiency as one of its prime directives, will continue to press on with this goal, while still exploring other options. “We are definitely conducting research on electric cars, but I can’t say I can wholeheartedly recommend them,” Kawanabe said.
Honda was a pioneer of early EV technology with the EV Plus compact electric vehicle that was available in California from 1997-1999. About 30o cars were leased but Honda did not consider the program successful. Honda is pushing for hydrogen fuel cell technology as the standard for future automobiles, but their progress is currently hampered by inadequate infrastructure surrounding refueling. Honda currently sells their FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle (pictured above) in California. Kawanabe also said that the company is exploring the possibility of building hybrids in North America.
Gallery: Honda FCX Clarity
[Source: Automotive News]
BMW is developing a complex powertrain that blends fuel cell and hybrid technology, allowing a car be carbon neutral in urban traffic.
The system works by having a conventional gasoline engine powering the front wheels, while a small fuel cell sends power via capacitors in the transmission tunnel to an electric motor positioned at the rear axle. In electric mode, the car drives the rear wheels, but is front-wheel drive when the gasoline engine is engaged. The systems can work in tandem to deliver bursts of acceleration, but the technology’s fate depends on when the necessary hydrogen infrastructure is implemented in urban centers.
If the hybrid-hydrogen powertrain does get off the ground, expect it to make an appearance sometime in 2014, in both the next-generation MINI Cooper and the upcoming front-drive BMW. Currently, BMW is testing a 1 Series hatchback, which has been converted to a front-drive platform, with this hydrogen fuel cell setup – proving that it can work in a small vehicle.
Three versions of green car planned: Electric, Hydrogen Fuel-Cell & Hybrid
Mercedes-Benz says it will develop three blueZero models, including an electric model, a hydrogen fuel-cell model and an extended range hybrid-electric model. Some of the versions will even begin production this year.
Dr Thomas Weber, the man in charge of corporate research and development at Mercedes-Benz Cars says that, “From 2009, we will be producing the first Mercedes fuel-cell cars on a small scale. Small-scale production of Mercedes-Benz cars with battery-electric drive alone will then commence in 2010.” The extended-range hybrid-electric blueZero is expected after that.
The blueZero E-Cell will be a pure electric vehicle and will have an operating range of 124 miles. Mercedes estimates a 0-62 mph time of 11 seconds for it and the other models.
The blueZero F-Cell will be powered by an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries as well as a hydrogen fuel-cell – all of which will be located below the passenger compartment. This is due to Mercedes’ Sandwich architecture floor architecture, first developed for the A-Class and later used in the B-Class. Mercedes claims it will have an operating range of more than 250 miles.
Finally, Mercedes is still working on an extended-range blueZero, called the E-Cell Plus, which will use a battery and electric engine as well as a standard internal combustion engine. The gasoline engine will be the three-cylinder turbocharged motor found in the Smart fortwo. It will, however, operate on just the electric motor for 62 miles, at which point the gasoline motor will kick in to charge the batteries – much like a standard hybrid system. In total, Mercedes says the E-Cell Plus will achieve a range of 375 miles.