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Is hydrogen the alternative fuel for future new cars?

The new award winning Ford EcoBoost engine

Published on by New Car Bundle

As fossil fuels become ever more limited and governments force vehicle manufacturers to reach new lower emission targets, we are seeing a shift to newer alternative fuels. Find out below how manufacturers such as Ford are shifting to newer technologies that provide greater fuel efficiency while reducing the overall vehicle emissions.

Ford's Future Goals

  • Advanced Clean Diesel - modern diesels are about 40% more fuel efficient than petrol and these are known as ECOnetic™
  • Advanced Clean Petrol - the award winning EcoBoost engine has provided petrol engines greater efficiency with a smaller price tag
  • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) - are powered by a traditional internal combustion engine and battery power to deliver improved fuel economy
  • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) - use no petrol or diesel, they are powered by a high-voltage electric motor from a battery pack. A Ford Focus Electric car created by Ford in 2011 was recorded with a combined fuel economy rating of 105 MPGe and a driving range of 76 miles from a single charge
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) - are powered by an internal combustion engine and a high-voltage electric battery that can be charged from an electric outlet. The engine and the battery work together to provide benefits through a hybrid powertrain
  • Renewable Bio-fuelled Vehicles - an alternative to petrol and diesel is ethanol fuel which is high-octane which will increase the engine efficiency reducing CO2 emissions
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) - are electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel cells are essentially batteries fuelled by hydrogen. They emit just water vapour and heat, without other tailpipe pollutants

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs)

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are similar to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in that they use an electric motor to move the vehicle. FCVs are different in that they are equipped with a hydrogen fuel tank and a fuel cell system that generates electric power to drive the electric motor. FCVs use on-board hydrogen stored in a fuel tank and are just like you would normally fill up your car. As a result, FCVs provide the environmental benefits of a BEV but they have a longer driving range and significantly shorter refuelling time.

In an FCV, an fuel cell produces the electricity by converting hydrogen and oxygen into electrical current through an electro-chemical reaction in the fuel cell stack. The output of this process is just water vapour and heat, and produces no other tailpipe pollutants.. This is why FCVs are known as zero-emission vehicles. In fact, all of the technologies used in BEVs to improve can be directly applied to FCVs such as high-voltage electronics, electric motors, regenerative braking and battery technology.

Hydrogen Challenges

Even with the advances made in hydrogen technology over the past 10 years, there are still challenges to overcome before hydrogen FCVs can compete in the market with current vehicle technology. The cost and durability of the fuel cell system are the most significant challenges. There are also still significant challenges related to the cost and availability of hydrogen fuel and on-board hydrogen storage technology. To overcome these challenges and make fuel cell vehicle technology commercially viable, further scientific breakthroughs and continued engineering refinements are required.

Hydrogen Refuelling Infrastructure

A new infrastructure must be invested in, designed and executed throughout the country to make hydrogen-powered vehicles commercially attractive to Ford customers.

Recent Advances Made in the UK

A small British firm called Acal Energy based in Runcorn in Cheshire is looking forward to a day in which we will take our cars to the garage and fill them with hydrogen. The firm believes they could make hydrogen fuel cells much cheaper and longer-lasting than current technologies.

It wants to license its chemistry to the world's car-makers, opening the way for hydrogen vehicles to sell in large volumes in 10 or 20 years' time.

Acal Energy is pitching its technology as the enabler for a second generation of less costly, more durable vehicles which could - if all goes to plan - pose a serious challenge to the long domination of the internal combustion engine from about 2020 onwards.

Hydraulic Hybrid Concept

The hydraulic hybrid concept from Bosch and Peugeot offers an alternative which could be with us by 2016. Here, a pressure accumulator filled with nitrogen stores braking energy that normally would be wasted, and a hydraulic motor then converts it into propulsion.

Bosch's Hydraulic Hybrid Powertrain
Bosch's Hydraulic Hybrid Powertrain


For now we will still be driving our liquid fuelled internal combustion engines with conventional fuels, but this will change in the next 5 years as electric cars become more widely available such as the new Ford Focus Electric car which began production in June this year and will be available soon.

Ford Focus Electric 2014
Ford Focus Electric 2014

Tags: Alternative Fuels, New Cars, Future Cars, Hydrogen

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