SOUE News Issue 8

A Hydrogen Car

A prototype car driven by a hydrogen fuel cell has been in the news recently, and has some Oxford connections. The designer is Hugo Spowers, who read engineering at Oriel, 1978-81, and the wheel motors owe a lot to Malcolm McCulloch, tutor at Christ Church.

Cranfield, where the designer studied automotive engineering, has also been involved, and Sebastian Piech, a descendant of the designer of the Porsche, is funding its further development.

The two-seater body is made from recyclable composites, and the car weighs only 350 kg. The fuel cell drives the vehicle through four motors, one in each wheel, and the electronics is configured so that they can regenerate when braking. The maximum speed is said to be 50 mph, adequate for the "urban car" that it is intended to be. If the hydrogen is derived from natural gas, this implies some CO2 emissions at the source, but only about 31 g/km, far less than for any petrol-engined car in production. Eventually hydrogen may be produced economically from some greener CO2-less source. The actual fuel energy consumed in propelling the car is claimed to be equivalent to that of a petrol-engined one doing 300 miles per gallon. The electric motors are said to have three times the power/weight (or possibly torque/weight) ratio of conventional motors. This is attributed to the use of a "new material", but they don't say what!

It is proposed not to sell the vehicle, but to lease it for around £200 per month, which would include maintenance and the cost of the hydrogen. The first fleet might be established in Oxford or some city of similar size.

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