March 13th, 2006
It looks just like a Ford Focus and, in fact, it is. Except it’s clean, green, and exhales only water as it hums down the road with the kind of pick-up only an electric drive system can offer. And at more the $1 million dollars to produce, it made me a little nervous to drive it through Vancouver, British Columbia even as a Ballard Power Systems’ PR person encouraged me on a straight away to see what it could do. It’s snappy, and quiet.
The Focus Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) is part of a five-vehicle, three-year demonstration to test the cars in real-world conditions. Ballard fuel cells power the fleet as well as 130 other FCV’s around the world including 100 DaimlerChrysler cars, trucks, and buses.
For automotive fuel cells to be commercially viable they must demonstrate certain performance attributes and be cost competitive with today’s internal combustion engines. They have to be small but generate more electric power (volumetric power density), have a longer lifetime, have a better freeze-start capability (a frozen ‘engine’ is much more likely with water-producing fuel cells), and they have to cost a lot less to produce. The Ford Focus I was driving is expensive because it is a research model; Honda has a similarly expensive vehicle in the states.
By 2010 Ballard aims to have a commercially viable automotive fuel cell with a 5,000 hour lifetime, freeze-start of -30 degrees Celius, volumetric power density of 2,500 watts per liter, and a fuel cell stack cost of $30 US dollars per kilowatt–goals which are at or better than US Dept. of Energy stipulations. Once this is achieved auto manufacturers can build vehicles around the fuel cells.
While touring through town we carried on a stoplight conversation with a woman who first mistook the car for a hybrid . At the next light she wanted to know about availability. Well, the technology is there, as is evident by my joy ride, but it’s not ready for the mass market. Yet.
A few more snaps.
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Photographed for World Picture News.
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