Do Hybrids advance Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History?

“I believe fuel cells could end the 100-year reign of the internal combustion engine.”             William Clay Ford, Jr.

Henry Ford’s father William came to Canada from Ireland, before settling ‘on the other side’ — years before Henry started to change the world. BTW, Cadillac also came to Canada before settling ‘on the other side’. His full name was Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac.

Today, these automakers and all others, as well as oil companies, aircraft manufacturers and ship builders –they all know that major change is just ‘down the road’. Change they must – or disappear.

Starting in May of 1984, Daimler-Benz, together with the petroleum company Aral, the Dornier aircraft firm and the multi-faceted Mannesmann & Thyssen – (from foundries to electronic systems) – demonstrated the Mercedes 280 TE ‘hybrid’ vehicle, which was able to run on petroleum and hydrogen. Five cars were outfitted the same way. The cars’ weight increased to 1950kg when equipped with gasoline and hydrogen storage tanks. H2 was stored in a metal hydride, containing 33 cubic meters of the gas. (Yes, other than in a gaseous or liquid form, H2 can be contained in other ways.) The IC Engine produced 120kW at 5500rpm.

At the same time, Daimler-Benz also modified five vans, model TN310, to the same effect.  The passenger van had seating for up to ten persons.  Its engine delivered only 75 kW at 5600 rpm but the hydrogen storage was twice that of the sedans. Daimler-Benz tested all ten vehicles for four years –until 1988, driving a quarter million miles as paramedical emergency vehicles within the city of Berlin. The Mercedes-Benz 280TE station wagon carried ‘Doctor’ instead of ‘Taxi’ sign on the roof, and the likewise modified van had a Red Cross painted on it. You can find pictures of the car and van near the top of this page.

From the Daimler archives, I learned this: “Hydrogen was also tested as a fuel for the spark ignition engine. In 1975, Daimler-Benz was the world’s first motor manufacturer to present an experimental van with hydrogen drive and hydride accumulator. Hydrogen opened up interesting possibilities, firstly because gasoline engines and hydride accumulators could be combined without any great problems, and secondly because the emissions behavior of hydrogen engines was especially favorable.”

“When converting internal combustion engines from gasoline to hydrogen drive, the key problem is how to store the hydrogen in the vehicle. The hydride accumulator optimizes the system. It collects a large portion of the engine heat when the hydrogen is removed. At the hydrogen filling station, this storage energy can be reclaimed during the charging of the storage unit at a useable temperature level of 80–90°C/176–194°F (with a low-temperature hydride), or of 250–300°C/482–572°F (with a high-temperature hydride).”

One of the largest German scientific institutions, Forschungs Zentrum (research center) Karlsruhe, developed the first “modern” fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in 1989.  A Volkswagen truck, based on the mini bus, served as the test mule. That “Voltswagen” was powered by a 144 Volt, 17 kW, electric motor with a peak output of 32 kW, supplied by a 90 Ah battery.  This was charged by three alkaline fuel cells of 17.5 kW, supplied by Siemens.  Two cylinders, one for oxygen, one for nitrogen, supplied the FC; total capacity was 1.5 kg at 200 bar.

Loaded with all the necessary equipment, the VW weight all of 2880 kg.  It was certified and licensed to drive on public roads, able to top 70 km/h with a range of about 120 km.  Test runs exceeded 2000 km, the fuel cells operated in excess of 220 hours.

Picture by K. Schretzmann of FZK

During the early 1990s, German and Japanese automobile companies started experimenting with ‘green’ vehicles; it happened even before that historic day when Geoffrey Ballard became “Father of the modern Fuel Cell” in Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast.  Not just research institutions, but the industry had started to become involved.

At this point, we should be aware that, even though research and experimentation with hydrogen and its various applications seem to take forever, it is by no means the case that various groups are duplicating each other’s efforts and thus possibly prolong the process.

To avoid that costly error, the interested parties, i.e. researchers, regulators and future producers, formed the “Conference of the Parties” (COP).  “The supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” (UNFCCC) comprises more than 170 nations that have ratified the Convention.

After organizational details had been ironed out, its first session was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995 and it is expected to continue meeting on a yearly basis. “The COP’s role is to promote and review the implementation of the Convention. It will periodically review existing commitments in light of the Convention’s objective, new scientific findings, and the effectiveness of national climate change programs.”

Climate change for the better — that is what fuel cell electric vehicles are all about.

Next: Research Vehicles advance Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History

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