“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Wernher von Braun
The NASA space program initiated the commercial use of hydrogen in fuel cells to generate electricity.
Different applications require various types of fuel cells; Alkaline FCs, Molten Carbonate, Phosphoric Acid, Solid Oxide, Direct Alcohol, Electrolyte Fuel Cells and other, similar ones. Various types have been mentioned and/or described elsewhere on this significant automotive site by Kevin Kantola. Last, but not least, the most common kind is the PEM-Cell, the Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell, used in transportation.
The automobile arrived and transported humans long before rockets did. Regrettably, cars did not continue to burn the fuel Henry Ford first used; that being cellulose and crop-based ethyl alcohol. Our mistaken early belief in the benefits of petroleum is now upsetting the earth’s climate. The brunt of the blame is placed on the ever-present and insatiable internal combustion engine, of which more than 200 million new ones have been produced each year since 2011, from weed whackers to ships’ engines.
However, not only transportation’s pollution is contributing to climate change. Reports have us believe that cattle in some areas now emit more greenhouse gas (methane) than the vehicles. Forest fires and other natural causes, such as volcanos add to the problematic situation facing the earth.
We now know how to deal with the problem, and wheeled vehicles have started to change for the better, emerging from the ICE age. The automotive industry has started some time ago to apply and utilize the potential of hydrogen and fuel cells for a clean, green future of sustainable mobility.
In 1991, at the Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda presented the HR-X experimental car; The futuristic looking passenger car’s Wankel rotary engine runs on H2 gas. At about the same time, the NECAR series of experimental Mercedes-Benz fuel cell research vehicles began. They all have the PEM fuel cell and its peripherals inside the sandwich floor of the NECAR. The Rhine, Main, and Neckar are German rivers; this NECAR stands for New Electric Car. How poetic.
Mazda has tirelessly continued to develop the rotary engine with great success, even winning the 24 Hours at Le Mans in 1991. The company modified and prepared the rotary engine to be used into the future when hydrogen is available at the corner gas (H2) station. The Renesis hydrogen engine develops 210 horsepower when running on gasoline, but with the less energy-dense gaseous hydrogen, only 110 horsepower are on tap. (See next paragraph) Mazda made the RX-8 sports model ready for production as a dual fuel vehicle. The out of the ordinary firm hopes that this will speed up the development of a hydrogen infrastructure in Japan so that potential customers can fall back onto using gasoline only when the car runs out of the real gas. You can click here for photos and information on several of these cars.
[In engineering, specific power, also known as power per unit mass or power density refers to the amount of power delivered by an energy source, divided by some measure of the source’s size or mass. It is used to compare various power sources by a common figure representing their suitability for a particular role. Hydrogen has a higher energy density per unit mass than does gasoline, but a much lower energy density per unit volume. No single energy storage method boasts the best in specific power, specific energy, and energy density. Source: Wikipedia]
One of the HR-X experimental cars with Renesis rotary Wankel engine has 200 km range with gaseous H2 stored in metal hydride. Photo from Mazda.
Ford, owning Mazda at that time, as well as BMW, are preceding along similar lines with dual-fuel versions of reliable production models; [some became available to customers in in the new millennium.]
Meanwhile, in America, another very early believer in the end of the fossil fuel age was John H. Perry, Jr. He had become successful as publisher of twenty-eight newspapers by pioneering computer-assisted composing and printing, but his inventiveness did not stop there.
Perry started devoting his time and resources to developing renewable energy sources and technologies. He built his own research center near the coast of Florida and experimented with solar cells, modern windmills, and fuel cells. He patented a method of making methanol from seawater, and he launched the first fuel cell powered submarine. One or another of the Perry Group of companies holds patents and supplied products for the first practical uses of fuel cells at NASA.
In 1993, John Perry’s Energy Partners Inc. developed their “Green Car”. A modified Consulier GTP sportscar by Mosler became a pickup truck to carry the fuel cell stacks that provided power for an electric motor. The ‘Genesis Zero Emission Transporter’ was a proof of concept vehicle, funded by the United States Department of Energy, Office of Advanced Automotive Technologies. John Perry passed away in 2006.
Next: Sun energy helps hydrogen & fuel cell history, boosts future
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