After an apparent loss of interest by the car industry in Fuel Cell powered vehicles, there has suddenly been a flurry of announcements by a number of manufacturers. Of course as anyone who has taken an interest in alternative (and renewable) fuelled vehicles over the last few years would know, the enthusiasm for (& investment in) hydrogen powered cars by the major vehicle manufacturers waxes and wanes. However it is interesting that hydrogen has reappeared as a possible future fuel for vehicles and that many of the world`s largest car makers are forming partnerships to co-develop the necessary technologies.
(See the news item here: www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-fuel-cell-car-20130129,0,6861638.story)
The interesting thing about Fuel Cell powered vehicles is that they are ultimately electric vehicles, the Fuel Cell operating to provide the electricity, which can either be used immediately or stored for use in higher demand situations (such as hills) via batteries or even capacitors. Being electric vehicles most of the technology exists already, the challenge thus being to develop fuel cells that are affordable and to provide the refuelling network. The advantage of electric vehicles as currently available being of course that they can be refuelled (recharged) using an ordinary electrical plug and socket (although quicker recharging is generally regarded as desirable and is increasingly available at charging “stations”). So we’ll see – after all however good a vehicle is, it is of no use unless the fuel for it is available and at affordable prices – which is of course the reason why these alternatives are being sought by companies worldwide, petrol supplies being expected at some point in the (possibly) not too near future to diminish and thus increase considerably in price.
Of course it is not only the large car manufacturers who are seeking to develop fuel cell vehicles – a British Company called Riversimple (www.riversimple.com) has been working on their own vehicle for a number of years and if things go according to plan they’ll have a vehicle on the market sometime in 2015, so maybe we’ll see one of them being tested on Top Gear before anything from the big companies becomes available?
But cars aren’t the only vehicles which can be powered by fuel cells, electric bicycles can potentially be powered by them as well one fuel cell bicycle has been around in prototype form for sometime (www.horizonfuelcell.com/mobility.htm) while others it seems are currently in development such as the Pedego bicycle as mentioned in this interesting article (www.gizmag.com/signa-hydrogen-portable-fuel-cell/22820).
So we shall see – fuel cells have been around for a number of years, and the early promise from the beginning of this 21st century when we were being told that fuel cells would be with us soon, in affordable form and powering everything from laptops to cars, has been followed by either silence or reports of the high cost and impracticality of this technology. Time will tell I guess. But all the same the transport industry has been testing fuel cells in larger scale applications such as for trains (http://hydrail.org) and freight carrying ships – and here the costs are more likely to be outweighed by the advantages and the economies of scale, so the technology is beginning to find practical transport applications and perhaps is the coming thing?
Meanwhile the search is still on for the “holy grail” of the electric appliance and vehicle industry, a light, yet very high capacity battery that is also affordable. A recent breakthrough as reported here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130124150756.htm, perhaps makes that goal a step nearer – again we shall see.
I can’t help but being reminded of the much missed Tomorrows World TV program when looking at these new technologies. So many of the wonderful inventions we saw being demonstrated never seemed to appear in the shops (or anywhere) and perhaps never will. Time, as I said, will tell – and of course it is pretty obvious that petrol will one day (and perhaps in the not too distant future) be too difficult to get and too expensive anyway for it to be regarded as the everyday thing that it currently is.