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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.
A report from the National Research Council states that the U.S. could reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent by 2050 in cars and trucks.
At this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, we’re already expecting a lot of exciting new prototype cars. One of the biggest surprises however, will be GreenGT’s H2 race car, which is the most powerful hydrogen-powered race car currently active.
While many new plug-ins boast the convenience and simplicity of recharging the car battery from a household wall socket, how many vehicles can claim to provide the opposite?
Honda has installed an inverter in the trunk of one special FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, providing output power that could supply up to 8 kilowatts of electricity for more than seven hours from a full tank of hydrogen — a figure that is supposedly enough to power the average Japanese home for six days. This particular FCX has been delivered to the Saitama Prefecture government, which was also an early-adopter of a solar-powered hydrogen station.
Concerns over power shortages have heightened since last year’s natural disaster and the subsequent nuclear plant shutdown, causing a spike in interest for electric vehicles that may double as emergency power suppliers for homes. Last year, Nissan demonstrated its Leaf-to-Home, which claimed the power output could generate enough to sustain an average household for two days. Unlike fuel cells, an electric battery can only store electricity rather than generate it, resulting in a less flexible application when compared to fuel-cell technology.
GALLERY: Honda FCX Clarity Fuel Cell
Just when CAFE loosened standards and lowered from 56.5 MPG to 54 MPG by 2025, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has decided to propose new and more stringent conditions for automakers that sell cars in California. The California Air Resources Board will not only enforce CAFE, but will also require at least 15.4 percent of all cars sold by any major automaker in the state to either be fully electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel cell by 2025.
Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, observes 15.4 percent as, “a relatively modest goal, but that’s all that we’re mandating. Probably the most heartening aspect of this whole rulemaking was the level of cooperation that we received from the industry… Overall, the degree of support for the package was just extraordinary.”
It is worth noting that earlier this month, researcher LMC Automotive discovered that hybrid sales in the United States have decreased in 2011 to 2.2 percent compared to 2.4 percent of all vehicle sales in 2010. These numbers are far below the proposed 15.4 percent mandate. Despite high profile unveilings of gas-electric products at auto shows across the world, consumers find the cost premium of owning a hybrid over conventional combustion engine vehicles too expensive.
According to the California New Car Dealers Association, this plan would cause automakers to increase the average price of a new vehicle by an estimated $3,200 in order to develop technology that will accommodate the new rules. Appropriately, Mary Nichols also said, “direct incentives to people who buy these cars (like) rebates and credits” are also being worked out.
California’s new regulation will likely be adopted by an additional 10 states, resulting to the projected total number of advanced green vehicles near three million total units by 2025, 1.4 million of which would be in California.
Japanese car firm Toyota is already a world leader in hybrid technology. Now it seems, Toyota wants to have a similar strangle hold of the fuel-cell market.
According to vice-president of product planning and marketing for Toyota Europe, Alain Uyttenhoven, Toyota is planning on selling a few thousand fuel-cell vehicles starting in 2015. Sales are expected to be low due to the price required to make the vehicles. Since the technology is new and thus expensive to produce, each vehicle could sell for as much as $138,000.
The price means that it would attract the most eco-minded drivers and government agencies looking to put more green in their footprint.
For 2012, Toyota will offer a plug-in hybrid version of the Prius along with the regular Prius models. The plug-in version uses the same Hybrid Synergy Drive system as the regular version, but since it has a much larger 4.4 kwh lithium-ion battery pack, it can travel 13-miles on electric mode alone. Since the battery pack is not very big, it takes just 3-hours to fully charge from a standard 120v household outlet, or just 1.5-hours from a 240v system. Once the battery is depleted, you can continue the journey using the normal Prius hybrid drive system.
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]
Get your kids into eco-friendly play with the Renewable Energy Racers Set. Making it fun to go Green, these remote controlled racecars are powered by three different renewable energy sources.
Using a miniature windmill, solar panel, and hydrogen fuel cell to give them juice, the Renewable Energy Racers Set offers up to 20 minutes of racing time – and that’s for a 10 to 30 minute charge. If they are running off the hydrogen fuel cell, you’ll get five minutes of power from a three-minute charge.
The kit comes with a basic remote equipped with left/right and forward/reverse controls, a 10′ range, and a charging cord (in case natural power sources are readily available). You’ll also need six AA batteries that are needed for the remotes. You can buy it here for $59.99.
Last year, the Obama Administration heavily backed Detroit’s automakers with a big helping of government funding. The bail-out money that was partly provided to General Motors and Chrysler, was for these companies to develop and sell hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles. The end result was the hardly amazing Chevrolet Volt.
However, the Obama administration still wants to help the electric and hybrid car industry, and their latest move to help move such products is to cut funding for clean-diesel and fuel-cell technology.
So while $80-million was budgeted for clean-diesel development in 2010, for 2011 that budget is cut down to zero. Congress had originally promised $500-million over 5-years for this project. Similar cuts have been made towards the development of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
The money that is being cut from clean-diesel and fuel-cell vehicles will now go to plug-in hybrid vehicles. Under the new plan, the $7500 tax break will be given to the customer at the dealership, not when taxes are claimed at the end of the year.
So while this might be great news for anyone who is looking to buy a plug-in hybrid vehicle, this will have an effect on manufacturers who had invested in other technologies. Essentially, those who manufacture clean-diesel or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles will see marketing their vehicles in North America pointless.
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.
Along with a plug-in hybrid version of the Swift, Suzuki is planning to unveil a hydrogen fuel cell-powered SX4 concept model at the Tokyo Auto Show later this month.
Under the theme “Small cars, big future,” Suzuki will show the SX4-FCV and several other alternative fuel vehicles. This particular vehicle is powered by a fuel cell stack and a 10,000 psi hydrogen tank.
The Japanese automaker is currently testing the SX4-FCV on Japanese roads and plans to bring a production model to market in the near future. We won’t hold our breath…
In addition, Suzuki will also showcase a new Mio electric wheelchair powered by “direct methanol fuel cells” that can be replaced rather than just recharged. Three new two-wheeled vehicles will also be on display, including the Burgman Fuel Cell Scooter that, much like the SX4, uses hydrogen as a fuel-source.
Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will begin production of a zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell powered version of its compact B-Class model with sales starting in the U.S. and Europe next year.
Using a hydrogen-powered electric motor and a lithium ion battery pack, the F-Cell B-Class will make 134hp and 214 ft-lbs of torque. It will be capable of traveling 250 miles on a tank of hydrogen and get roughly 70 mpg.
“2009 is the year in which we are establishing further milestones where sustainable mobility is concerned. The B-Class F-CELL is taking on a pioneering role as the world’s first fuel cell powered automobile to be produced under series production conditions”, says Mercedes R&D boss Dr. Thomas Weber.
Like any Mercedes the B-Class F-Cell will be well equipped with leather, heated seats, automatic climate control and the Mercedes Command system.
In anticipation of the B-Class F-Cell hitting the market Mercedes is working with local governments in California as well as in Hamburg and Stuttgart in Germany to set up hydrogen refueling stations.
GALLERY: Mercedes B-Class F-Cell
Official release after the jump: