Hydrogen Cars to be Piloted on Britain's Streets
14 Sep 2010
A fleet of hydrogen cars will be the first on Britain’s streets as part of a new transport model
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A fleet of hydrogen fuel cell cars will be the first on Britain’s streets, as part of a new transport model
Riversimple, a small and innovative new company based in Ludlow, Shropshire, is hoping to restructure the entire notion of personal transport. They have designed what they believe will be the most efficient and commercially viable hydrogen fuel cell car in the world.
According to the company, their urban two-seater Network Electric Vehicle has a top speed of 50mph, can accelerate from 0-30mph in 5.5 seconds and has a range of 240 miles. Its efficiency is such that the equivalent achievement in a petrol car would be 300 miles per gallon.
A technology demonstrator car was unveiled last year and now the workshop at Silverstone is currently producing a fleet of 30 prototypes for a 12-month trial that begins next spring in Leicester.
Will Cornwallis, a member of the team, describes the company strategy: “Unlike the established automobile industry, we are rethinking the entire design of the car, not just changing subcomponents; it’s a whole-system design approach.”
Although hydrogen fuel cells are twice as efficient as petrol engines, high costs of the raw materials and manufacturing makes them incredibly expensive components; the size required to power the weight of a conventional vehicle makes them incompatible.
However, without the legacy issues of huge scale production, supply chains and investment, Riversimple have abandoned the gearbox and driveshafts, and replaced the steel body with a much lighter carbon fibre frame. This requires a smaller, less expensive hydrogen fuel cell of 6kw – those used in Honda’s FCX Clarity are 115kw – and reduces the energy wasted, compressing bigger volumes of hydrogen. The design also includes a regenerative braking system, storing 50% of the energy lost by braking, compared to 10% in other hybrid cars.
Key to the project is the plan to lease the vehicles. “We will sell mobility as a service, rather than a car as a product,” says managing partner, Hugo Spowers. “Car manufacturers make money from selling vehicles and parts, but this only rewards obsolescence and high running costs. Leasing them instead, inclusive of fuel, rewards longevity and low running costs.” It also makes investment in the fuel cell and carbon fibre frame economically feasible, he explains.
Riversimple want their technology to be quickly adopted and as widespread as possible. To this end, they are making the research and design available to others and preventing it from being patented by setting up an ‘open source’ foundation. If private companies improve the design, they must share their developments with the foundation, who retain ownership of the concept. Manufacturers will then pay a small premium to license the cars they produce. It will serve as a wide network of expertise, which will build a better and more robust car, while strengthening the organisation against powerful competitors, says Riversimple.
The company is based at a site called the Mill on the Green ñ a building on the banks of the River Teme that once housed a medieval water wheel. This historical place has been carefully renovated and transformed for the 21st century and now hosts a hydro-turbine, generating electricity for the building, which also houses an ethical cafe, craft rooms and office spaces.
The transport vision emerging from here is set to become an important part of many lives before too long, as energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, acknowledges: “We need to harness cutting-edge technology to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels if we are to tackle climate change. Nowhere is this more important than with passenger cars, which are responsible for almost 60% of domestic transport emissions. A radical transformation of our transport network is needed in the next 40 years and this is another great example of British innovation developing low carbon solutions to bring that about.”
Mill on the Green, Linney,
Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 1EG
Managing partner Hugo Spowers behind the wheel of the new hydrogen powered car. Photo: © Riversimple
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