Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles
The Future of Transportation
Project Advisor: Mike Mangini
Table of Contents
A Hydrogen Future ............................................................................................................. 4
System Overview ................................................................................................................ 8
The Fuel Cell..................................................................................................................... 12
The Hydrogen Storage Tanks ........................................................................................... 23
The Motor ......................................................................................................................... 30
AC Motor Controller......................................................................................................... 34
Regenerative Braking........................................................................................................ 36
Intermediate Energy Storage............................................................................................. 38
Platform Vehicle and Modifications................................................................................. 46
Performance Analysis ....................................................................................................... 51
Appendix 1: Sources of Hydrogen.................................................................................... 62
Appendix 2: How Safe is Hydrogen? ............................................................................... 64
Appendix 3: References.................................................................................................... 66
Special Thanks to:
The project received a generous donation from New York State Electric and Gas Co.
(NYSEG) to help with research and design.
We would like to thank Mike Mangini for donating countless hours answering our
questions, managing the administrative details of our project, and editing the final work.
We would also like to thank:
Charles Hanley, Mr. Engel, Mr. During, Mrs. Michaels, Mrs. Bustamante, Dryden High
School, Steve Glidden, Nancy Tomlinson, Scott Warren, Cathryn Ourtel.
We began this project as two seniors at our local high school looking for something extra
to do. Jared was interested in cars in general and was currently rebuilding an old Jaguar. I
have always been fascinated by the latest technology, and I was really interested in the
future of vehicular technology, especially because gas-electric hybrid cars were making
their debut. We both wanted to do something in that area and we had heard of cars
powered by hydrogen. This sounded perfect, because it was futuristic enough to be
exciting but practical enough to be possible. In fact, a little research showed us that
current automotive companies were building hydrogen car prototypes and that hydrogen
cars had a lot of potential. They could improve both the performance and environmental-
friendliness of vehicles. We were sold, and decided to turn our interest into something
real. After a little thought we went to Mike Mangini, our physics instructor, to propose an
independent study project through our school to design a hydrogen vehicle. We knew it
would be challenging but that it would also be possible; after all, hydrogen cars already
existed. The independent study project would give us motivation to see the project
through to the end and would give us a little extra credit. When the administrative details
were out of the way, we began to research and design.
Our project has two main goals. First we wish to learn more about fuel cells and
hydrogen technology with respect to automobiles. Secondly we want to educate to
community about the benefits and feasibility of hydrogen cars. We hope to dispel any
myths about the possibility that they would be underpowered, dangerous, or too
expensive. We want to encourage to adoption of hydrogen vehicle technology because it
can benefit all. By completing our project, we can show that it is possible to create an
efficient and practical vehicle.
This booklet is the attempt to complete those objectives. The further we delved into the
project, the more we realized how complex the situation really is. Every section of this
book could be many times as long as it is. The motor section alone could encompass
hundreds of pages discussing types, functions, efficiencies, powers, manufacturers, etc.,
but we had neither the time nor the inclination to go that deeply into a specific topic. Will
our design create the best, most efficient vehicle? No – but it is a working vehicle, and
we did take into account everything we could. This car could be built, driven and used to
prove the technology.
A Hydrogen Future
As everyone knows, current vehicles are powered by an internal combustion engine that
runs off gasoline or diesel (fossil fuels). Current vehicles are also capable of nearly
everything we ask of them, whether it is reaching high speeds, pulling heavy loads or
undergoing rapid acceleration. However, the internal combustion engine is also a
century-old invention. Internal combustion engines are beginning to show signs of age.
Running off fossil fuels, they require a giant supply of oil. Without going into the politics
of it, securing this supply of oil has cost the United States and many other countries
billions of dollars, required compromising our values, and weakened the US
economically as we become increasingly dependant on foreign importation. The
dependence has, at the time of this writing, become particularly obvious as gas prices
soar past the $2 dollar a gallon mark. And because many people believe that we have
either reached or will soon reach the peak in the world’s supply of oil, prices will only
rise. The increasing scarcity of oil points to the imminent doom of the internal
There is a second price to gasoline vehicles: pollution. Ignore it as some might, clouds of
smog hang over many of the country’s cities. This problem can be even worse in other
nations around the world. It is not fully known at this point what this smog does to our
health and how responsible it is for causing various cancers, leading to the national
increase in allergies and asthma, and creating other health problems. Burning oil in our
cars dumps an estimated 302 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
each year. Many other greenhouse gases are also released. It is gradually becoming clear
that global warming is a real problem, and at this point the only people who deny this are
people who don’t want to bother fixing it.
The gasoline engine is not something the planet can sustain for much longer, both in
terms of providing fuel and in terms of keeping the environment hospitable. The
development and adoption of alternative options now would enable the use of gasoline
engines for the next several hundred years at least. However, keeping and continuing to
expand the number of internal combustion engine vehicles will only hasten their
cataclysmic end when fuel supplies run out. We do not advocate abandoning oil power,
but we do feel that in order to preserve the technology for uses where it is required,
critical, or essential, we must stop wasting fuel in applications where other alternatives
exist. A gradual shift to alternative energy sources, beginning now, could reduce or
possibly even eliminate any economic plight that would be caused by the sudden
expiration of internal
combustion engines as a
The most obvious
alternatives to gasoline
engines are electric
motors. Electric motors
are, actually, far more
suited to a transportation
application than internal
Figure 1: Under the hood of an electric car. The large metal box is
Electric motors sport far
the motor controller. Image from
http://auto.howstuffworks.com/electric-car1.htm. higher efficiencies, lower
weights, and higher torques than their gasoline equivalents. Motors can also provide
adequate power over a large range of engine speeds, potentially eliminating the need for a
transmission in a vehicle. However, an electric motor system has one fatal downfall:
energy storage. A well-made internal combustion engine can propel a car for 30 or more
miles per gallon of gasoline. Vehicular ranges average around 300 miles on a tank, with a
lot of variation depending on the vehicle. Hybrid vehicles, which feature the marriage of
internal combustion engines and electric motors, get even better mileage, still consuming
only oil. The best electric cars, however, can barely travel 100 miles on a full battery
charge. Unfortunately, the current generation of batteries is unable to hold enough energy
to power an electric car any further. The batteries are heavy, consume a lot of space and
take several hours to recharge. Consequently, electric vehicles have never become
practical alternatives to conventional cars. Also unfortunate is that in effort to squeeze the
highest possible mileage out of an electric vehicle, the electric motors have been
minimized to a size unable to match today’s standards of performance and power in
gasoline engines. This has fostered the myth that electric vehicles are not and cannot be
as powerful as conventional cars.
Dispelling this myth brings us to the topic of this booklet: hydrogen power. Hydrogen-
powered vehicles come in two types: hydrogen combustion engines and hydrogen fuel
cells. Through combustion, a hydrogen engine acts like an ordinary engine, except
hydrogen is burned in
the cylinders instead of
gasoline. However, this
requires the use of a
engine that still results
in the inefficiency
inherent of any
Figure 2: Honda’s FCX Fuel cell vehicle. Image from
http://hondacorporate.com/?onload=fcx. exothermic reaction.
The other option, using hydrogen fuel cells, is far better. Hydrogen fuel cells take
hydrogen and combine it with oxygen. This generates electricity. The electricity is then
used to power an electric motor, using the same technology as today’s electric vehicles.
Because the energy is stored in the form of hydrogen, and not in a battery, this enables
electric vehicles to carry significantly more energy. This allows for vehicles with larger
motors and longer ranges. In fact, with development, the average hydrogen vehicle
should be able to go further and be more powerful than the average gasoline vehicle. The
use of hydrogen fuel cells will allow us to advance automotive technology to levels
unreachable in past times.
Hydrogen fuel cells overcome the two major flaws of internal combustion engines. First,
hydrogen is the universe’s most common element. There is no risk of ever running out.
As hydrogen can be produced from the
electrolysis of water, it can be made in any
county anywhere. The issue of importing
hydrogen will not exist. And because fuel cells
output water, there is no need to worry about
consuming the world’s water supply.
Essentially, the hydrogen can be manufactured
anywhere in large quantities by breaking down Figure 3: A hydrogen fueling station
that recently opened in Iceland. Image
water into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen from Renewable Energy World at
is then distributed to the “gas” stations of the /2003_04_04.html.
future to fill your car. The car will be powered
by the fuel cells, which recombine the hydrogen with oxygen in the ambient air to form
all the water originally used. For more information on the manufacturing process of
creating hydrogen, see Appendix 1: Sources of Hydrogen.
Secondly, hydrogen vehicle will not pollute. The fuel cell potentially enables a hydrogen
car to be completely environmentally friendly. Because a fuel cell needs only hydrogen
and oxygen, no carbon, greenhouse, or other harmful gases are produced. Oxygen is
already found freely in the air. The hydrogen involved is also not environmentally
damaging for two reasons. First, the pure hydrogen will be completely contained at all
times during the process, and will not come in contact with the outside world. Second,
even if any hydrogen does leak into the atmosphere, it will immediately combine with
atmospheric oxygen to form H2O (water). Water does not damage the environment.
Appendix 1: Sources of Hydrogen deals with the possible methods of obtaining the
necessary pure hydrogen and their various environmental impacts.
Hydrogen vehicles have the potential to revolutionize the transportation industry.
However, the massive size of the automotive business makes it slow to change and
hesitant to adopt new technology. Only through public and political pressure will
hydrogen vehicles be developed within a reasonable time frame. Hydrogen could very
likely be the future. The sooner we reach that future, the sooner we decrease pollution of
the planet and cure the economic and political woes caused by a dependency on foreign
oil. This booklet is an effort to explain just how easy that future is to construct.
Before we go into the details of a hydrogen vehicle, it is important to get a sense of how
the components work together. This overview shows each component and what it does to
power the car. The specific details concerning each component, such as manufacturing
and user specs, how we chose it, and what it does, can be found in the following sections
of this booklet.
The simple diagram on the following page shows the flow of energy through the vehicle.
Hydrogen from the tanks and oxygen from the air combine in the fuel cells to generate
electricity. The fuel cell is the primary source of power in the vehicle. Running at a
maximum of 80 kW, it sends power to the motor controller. The more the driver pushes
down on the accelerator pedal (calling it a “gas” pedal is no longer accurate), the more
energy the controller asks for and the more energy the fuel cell puts out. Because the
preferred car motor is AC, not DC like the fuel cells and the rest of the system, the
controller will convert the DC power from the fuel cells to AC of the correct frequency
and power to drive the motor. The motor outputs a maximum of 100 kW, powering a
fixed gearbox and the drivetrain. The car does not require a multi-gear transmission
because unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors can be made to yield high
torque over a wide RPM range. Gasoline engines operate best over a very small RPM
band and so a complex transmission is necessary to keep the engine running efficiently.
An electric motor is not so limited.
A hydrogen fuel-cell car should also have integrated regenerative braking. This
complicates the system somewhat. When the driver brakes, instead of conventional
brakes slowing the car through friction, the motor begins to act as a generator. Regulated
by the controller, which receives information the brake petal, the motor slows the car at
the desired rate. At the same time this generates electricity, which goes through the
controller, is converted from the AC of the motor to DC, and charges the ultracapacitors.
Hence, when the car brakes the ultracapacitors gather electricity. This increases vehicular
efficiency. The amount of heat generated when a conventional 2500 lb car brakes from
60 mph to rest is enough to light a 100 W bulb for an hour. This energy is normally
vented off to the atmosphere providing no useful function.
When the driver accelerates again, the ultracapacitors are drained to power the car.
During times of high acceleration, both the ultracapacitors and the fuel cell will be
powering the motor. Running the fuel cell at 80 kW and the ultracapacitors at 20 kW, the
motor can run at maximum output for 11.25 seconds before the ultracapacitors are
drained. The car should be able to reach 60 mph in that time. Additionally, if the car is
completely stopped, and the ultracapacitors are not fully charged, the fuel cell will turn
on and charge them. This assures the driver will have maximum acceleration when he or
she wants it.
To actually build the car, a more detailed electric schematic is needed. Voltages need to
match and current needs to fall within limits of the components. The result is a slightly
more complicated system.
As you can see, a DC-to-DC converter is needed to up the voltage of the ultracapacitors
to match that of the fuel cell. Heavy gauge wiring will also be needed for most of the
circuit where the current reaches several hundred amps. The power output of the motor
during regenerative braking will vary on the rate at which the vehicle brakes. Therefore,
the power rate between the controller and the ultracapacitors will also vary. However, it
is important that it does not exceed 100 volts and 450 amps (45 kW) or it may overload
the ultracapacitors, destroying them. The controller can be set to prevent this problem.
The diode and switch system between the ultracapacitors and fuel cell tie the
ultracapacitors into the system. The diode allows the ultracapacitors to power the
controller without current flowing from the fuel cells towards the ultracapacitors. As
such, the switch is open during normal driving. However, when the car comes to a
complete stop, the switch will close. The ultracapacitors can then be refilled by the fuel
cell is they are not already full from regenerative braking. The driver will thereby have
fully charged ultracaps to assure he or she has maximum power for the next acceleration.
Most of the remainder of this book is intended to describe each individual component and
how we arrived at the various specifications for them. Details on the physical locations of
various components can be found in the Platform Vehicle and Modifications section.
The Fuel Cell
The fuel cell is the heart of a hydrogen-powered vehicle. A fuel cell uses the combination
of hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity. The side effect of this process is the
generation of water and heat. The electricity can then be used to power the car. The fuel
cell is the primary device that turns ordinary electrical vehicles into a practical,
An Extremely Brief History
Fuel cells were first invented back in 1839. However, it was not until the 1960s that
NASA demonstrated the first practical use of fuel cells in space flight. From there the
technology has grown. In the 1990s fuel cells began to become a viable option for
powering a car. The late 1990s and the 2000s saw the first prototype hydrogen vehicles.
Types of Fuel Cells
There are multiple types of fuel cells. Each has different operating conditions and some
use a fuel other than pure hydrogen. For example, methanol fuel cells are commonly
used. They break down methanol into hydrogen and carbon, and then combine the
hydrogen with oxygen to produce water and energy. However, they release the carbon
into the atmosphere, thereby polluting. The only practical type of fuel cell for a clean,
efficient vehicle is a Proton Exchange Membrane cell (PEM). PEMs are the most suitable
type of fuel cell for vehicular applications because of their lower operating temperature.
(They operate at the lowest temperature, around 80 degrees Celsius. Other cells require
higher temperatures, which makes them unsuitable for a vehicular application.) PEM fuel
cells rely on the simple combination of hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. At
all points in this book, whenever “fuel cell” is mentioned, we are talking about PEM fuel
How Fuel Cells Work
The basic concept behind how a fuel cell works is very simple. The following illustration
from Ballard Power Systems provides an excellent view into the workings of a fuel cell.
Figure 4: Fuel Cell Illustration from Ballard Power System – http://www.ballard.com
On the left side of this illustration, hydrogen enters the fuel cell. On the right, oxygen is
provided. Hydrogen is a reactive element, and will combine with oxygen given the
opportunity. Each hydrogen molecule, H2, has two hydrogen atoms each with one
electron. The oxygen has 6 valence electrons. The rules of chemistry tell us that each
atom is in its most stable state when it has a full outer shell of electrons, which for
hydrogen is 2 electrons and for oxygen is 8. Each atom tries to move towards this optimal
quantity and arrangement of electrons by binding with other atoms. In this case, each
oxygen atom needs two more electrons. Each hydrogen atom needs one. The oxygen will
therefore pull in two hydrogen atoms to fill its valence electron shell to a total of eight
electrons. Each hydrogen atom, in return, shares one of the oxygen’s electrons, resulting
in a full shell of 2 electrons to stabilize the hydrogen.
This process requires the hydrogen and oxygen to bind together, and in the above
illustration, they are on opposite sides of the fuel cell. The hydrogen, being the smaller
atom, is more mobile and is pulled to the right. To reach the oxygen atom the hydrogen
must pass though the Proton Exchange Membrane. The PEM membrane, as its name
suggests, allows only the passage of a proton, which happens to be the nucleus of a
hydrogen atom. As the hydrogen atom passes through the membrane the hydrogen’s
electron is left behind. Upon reaching the oxygen, the hydrogen nucleus is joined by
another which also crossed the membrane, and both bond to the oxygen. However, the
oxygen-hydrogen complex (which is H20 – water) is missing the two electrons that the
two hydrogen atoms left behind when they crossed the PEM membrane. The oxygen is
not yet satisfied because it still only has 6 valance electrons as the hydrogen arrived
without any. The hydrogen-oxygen complex is therefore positively charged, because
electrons carry a negative charge and the hydrogen-oxygen complex is missing two.
Meanwhile, the left side of the fuel cell, where the hydrogen originally was, now has two
An electric circuit connects the two sides of the cell. The electrons (negatively charged)
are drawn around the circuit, attracted to the hydrogen-oxygen complex because it is
positively charge. The only path to the oxygen is along the electric circuit. The potential
difference in charges (positive and negative) between each side of the cell creates
voltage, generally in the range of 1 to 2 volts for a PEM cell. If the electric circuit is
closed, the electrons are allowed to cross over to the hydrogen-oxygen complex,
generating current. There is now electricity that can be used to turn a motor and power a
car. To produce enough electricity to do this, many of the single cells illustrated above
are connected together in series to generate higher voltage.
The output of the fuel cell is obviously electricity, and also water (the hydrogen-oxygen
complex with the two electrons) and heat. The fuel cell therefore needs to dissipate this
heat into either the ambient air or a water system; more details on this can be found in the
Current hydrogen fuel cells need further development before they will be able to replace
internal combustion engines. The present generation of fuel cells requires expensive
metals such as platinum, which is required as a catalyst to speed the reaction between the
hydrogen and oxygen. Additionally, fuel cells today require very pure hydrogen gas.
Hydrogen gas with small amounts (even fractions of a percent) of sulfur or carbon in it
will cause degradation of the fuel cell by binding to the platinum catalyst. This decreases
both efficiency and lifetime. Obtaining hydrogen without any impurities is difficult and
expensive. Therefore, current fuel cells are not cost-effective. However, research is
underway at Cornell University, other universities, and the private sector to solve these
problems. While today’s fuel cells cost tens of thousands of dollars, tomorrow’s could be
Hydrogen fuel cells also face several other issues that are rapidly being solved. The first
concerns temperature. To operate, a PEM fuel cell must run at 80 degrees Celsius to
perform the hydrogen-oxygen combination. Fuel cells consequently have trouble in lower
temperatures. However, this issue can simply be solved by proper thermal management
and providing the cell with a heater when necessary. The other major issue concerns
start-up times; many fuel cells take several minutes to warm up before a car can begin
driving. However, this has recently improved – a fuel cell system by the manufacturer
Ballard Power Systems can start in less than 40 seconds. Most people give their cars a
few seconds to warm up when they first start them, and so this amount of time is not
unreasonable. It should also improve even further in the future. The final issue is weight;
a current 80 kW fuel cells weighs nearly 500 lbs (220 kg). This is a significant fraction
of the total weight of a vehicle and consequently degrades the vehicle’s performance.
However, this issue can be solved hand in hand with the cost issue – a cheaper fuel cell
would by necessity use lesser amounts of platinum and would therefore weigh less.
Additionally, clever designing of the car can decrease the weight of other systems so the
fuel cell’s weight becomes less onerous.
Fuel Cell Size
The size (i.e. power output) of the fuel cell depends on the desired performance of the
vehicle. Because the fuel cell is the most costly component of a hydrogen car, it is
important to keep its size to a minimum. What this booklet refers to as the “fuel cell”
actually consists of numerous small fuel cells stacked together to generate the necessary
voltage and current. Therefore, minimizing the required kW output of the overall cell will
decrease its size more or less proportionally.
As noted in both the sections on Intermediate Power Storage and Regenerative Braking
the main way to decrease the output requirements of the fuel cell in a car is by
augmenting it with ultracapacitors. The ultracapacitors provide extra power during cases
of high acceleration. This power comes from either of two sources: first, regenerative
braking will charge the car whenever it decelerates; and second, in the event that
regenerative braking doesn’t provide the necessary power, the fuel cell will charge the
ultracapacitors when the vehicle is at a complete stop. Therefore, when the driver wants
the maximum amount of power the motor can provide (which is 100 kW – see the Motor
section), the fuel cells need not provide all that power because a portion of it can come
from the charged ultracapacitors. The key to this strategy is finding the balance between
fuel cells and ultracapacitors. Draining the ultracapacitors at their maximum rate will
empty them quickly, leaving the fuels cell to provide the remaining power to finish the
acceleration. However, the alternative is to increase the size of the fuel cell, thereby
increasing the weight and cost of the vehicle.
There are several things to consider when determining the size of the fuel cell.
1. A higher number of ultracapacitors will decrease the required size of the fuel cell.
2. The combination of fuel cell and ultracapacitors should not exceed 100 kW.
3. Running the ultracaps at maximum power will allow for the smallest fuel cell, but
the ultracaps will most likely be drained before the driver finishes accelerating.
The driver will then have to finish the acceleration using only a smaller fuel cell.
This will greatly decrease the vehicle’s performance on a 0 to 60 speed test.
4. As vehicle weight can vary several hundreds pounds depending on the car model,
equipment, etc., the estimated performance relies on the optimism or pessimism
of the designer. This makes choosing the optimal balance between fuel cells and
In light of all this, we have chosen to present several fuel cell solutions. Given an
unlimited budget, we would obviously choose the most powerful combination. However,
the car can be made more economical by sacrificing some performance.
We propose three possible solutions: Maximizing the fuel cell so the ultracapacitors will
be guaranteed to last for more than the duration of any given acceleration; minimizing the
fuel cell to reduce the cost of the powerplant, but causing the car’s 0 to 60 mph time to
increase; or finding an intermediate solution preserving some performance and some
economy between the two.
This data comes from other sections of this booklet:
Ultracapacitor Max Output 45 kW
Ultracapacitor Total Storage 225,000 Joules
Estimated Vehicle Weight 1350 – 1590
(3000 – 3500 lbs)
Max Motor/Controller Power 100 kW
Solution 1: Large Fuel Cell
Either of the two motors we selected in the Motor section should enable the vehicle to
reach 60 mph in around 10 seconds. This will be considered the basis for a conservative
fuel cell estimate; the sum of the ultracapacitors’ and the fuel cell’s power output should
equal 100 kW for a duration exceeding 10 seconds.
The ultracapacitors store 225,000 joules,
225,000 J / 10 sec = 22.5 kW
Because this is the high performance option and to assure the ultracaps will last more
than the necessary 10 seconds, we will rely on the ultracapacitors to store about 90% of
their rated capacity, or 20 kW instead of 22.5 kW. This will allow the ultracaps to run for
11.25 seconds before being drained.
100 kW – 20 kW = 80 kW fuel cell
Therefore, a high performance car would need an 80 kW fuel cell.
Solution 2: Minimal Fuel Cell
It is slightly harder to determine the minimum size the fuel cell can be. Theoretically a
car could get by with a fuel cell only large enough to overcome wind resistance and
friction at the max cruising speed. Depending on the car body, this will be less than 20
kW. In this situation, however, acceleration would be terrible. Because the ultracaps
maximum output is 45 kW, the motor would never have enough power to reach its full
potential. Therefore, without redesigning the entire vehicle, the smallest the fuel cell
should be is 55 kW.
225,000 J / 45 kW = 5 seconds
Because the ultracapacitors will be emptied after 5 seconds, it will only be possible to run
the motor at full power for 5 seconds. However, these five seconds would enable the
vehicle to reach a speed of around 40 mph. After that, the motor will run off only the 55
kW fuel cell. Any remaining acceleration after the initial 5 seconds will be poor.
On the other hand, the decrease in weight resulting from the drop in fuel cell size would
help compensate for the lower power which the motor would run at. In fact, going with a
smaller fuel cell would make sense if the motor power was also decreased by 20 or 30
However, the goal of this project has always been to create a high performance hydrogen
vehicle that could compete directly with most consumer gasoline cars. While minimizing
the fuel cell size would result in an economical, slightly more efficient vehicle, it would
also have poor acceleration. A poor performing vehicle would lead to the public
perception that hydrogen electric vehicles are sluggish performers as compared to
combustion vehicles. This is a myth we are trying to dispel. Minimizing the fuel cell size
is not the option we would choose for our vehicle.
Solution 3: A Compromise
The final option involves meeting a compromise between performance and economy.
Having an 80 kW fuel cell could be considered by some to be overkill. In standard
driving, most drivers do not push their vehicle to the limit. A 15 to 20 second acceleration
from 0 to 60 mph is perfectly acceptable most of the time. Decreasing the fuel cell
somewhat would still provide decent performance by allowing the ultracapacitors to last a
reasonable duration. If the fuel cell was decreased from 80 kW to 70 kW, that would
require running the ultracaps at 30 kW to achieve maximum acceleration.
225,000 / 30 kW = 7.5 seconds
The driver would therefore have 7.5 seconds of full acceleration before the ultracaps gave
out. This would enable the driver to make a rapid acceleration into heavy traffic on a
freeway, for instance. While it is unlikely the driver could go from 0 to 60 in that time, it
would provide the opportunity to get up to 45 or 50 before acceleration slowed. Finally,
because the performance estimates are based around a heavier car with an 80 kW cell,
acceleration would improve simply because the vehicle weighs less. Those 7.5 seconds of
full acceleration would get a 70 kW vehicle going faster than it would an 80 kW one.
Specs Solution 1 Solution 2 Solution 3
Fuel Cell Size 80 kW 55 kW 70 kW
Ultracap Power Rate 20 kW 45 kW 30 kW
Duration of 100 kW power 11.25 seconds 5 seconds 7.5 seconds
0 to 60 mph time ~10 seconds
(see the Performance section)
For our vehicle, Solution 1 would be the best. Because our goals are to maximize
performance, the largest fuel cell is the most appropriate. However, Solution 3 would
make a good compromise; acceleration would still be reasonable, and weight would be
decreased. If a 70 kW fuel cell were much cheaper or easier to produce, Solution 3 would
make sense. For Solution 2 to be practical, a redesign of the vehicle, with an emphasis on
economy and efficiency, is needed. Various elements, such as the motor size, should be
Fuel Cell Control
There are several aspects to the support systems for hydrogen fuel cells. This system
obviously varies by manufacturer. The primary need is to regulate the flow of hydrogen
from the fuel tank and oxygen from the air to the fuel cell. The delivery rate of these
gases will need to vary with the instantaneous power output of the fuel cell. The control
system will therefore need to communicate with the motor controller to provide the
correct amount of power at the required times. There will also need to be some sort of
control to regulate the cooling system.
Ballard Fuel Cell System
As mentioned, Ballard Power Systems is the leading manufacturer of fuel cells for
vehicles. The majority of prototype hydrogen vehicles made by the major car
GM, Honda, Toyota,
etc) use a Ballard Fuel
Cell. Ballard provides
a fuel cell and control
system, which is
likely what we would
use in our car.
The fuel cells can be
built to output a wide
range of different Figure 5: Ballard Mark 902 Fuel Cell from http://www. ballard.com
power levels. An 80
kW fuel cell is near the norm for light transportation vehicle applications. Along with the
basic cell, called a Mark 902, Ballard provides the Xcellsis HY-80 system. It includes all
the necessary support systems. The control unit communicates with the motor controller
via a CAN bus, the standard for vehicle systems and found on our chosen controllers. No
doubt a little programming will be necessary to get the controller and control unit to
communicate properly, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. The fuel cell control unit tells the
system module to send hydrogen and oxygen to the fuel cell. The system module also
humidifies, heats, and compresses ambient air containing the oxygen to the correct levels
necessary for the fuel cells. A power distribution module measures and regulates the
output power of the cell. The Xcellsis also includes a cooling pump. Another useful
feature is a built-in 12 volt output so that 12 V car systems can easily be integrated.
Finally, the entire system can be configured in different packages to fit into various
chassis types. The Xcellsis is designed to output only 68 kW, but a slight variation of the
system to include a larger fuel cell should not be difficult.
Ballard Fuel Cell Mark 902 (no control system)
Rated net power 85 kW continuous
Current (maximum) 300 Amps
DC voltage (minimum) 284 Volts
Weight 96 kg (212 lbs)
Volume 75 liters (2.7 cubic ft)
Xcellsis HY-80 system (customizable; includes fuel cell such as Mark 902)
Max efficiency 48%
Start-up time < 40 seconds
Operating temperature < 85 degrees C
Weight 220 kg (485 lbs)
Volume 220 liters
Hydrogen Interface Pressure 10–13 bara (130–175 psig)
Max Power output 68 kW
The Hydrogen Storage Tanks
A hydrogen car needs hydrogen, obviously. The car is powered by the energy given off
by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen into water. Oxygen is readily available from
the air, but hydrogen must be supplied by a separate source.
The traditional method for storing hydrogen (or any other gas) is in a pressurized tank.
This is the storage method we have opted for here, but it does, however, have several
disadvantages. Hydrogen is a very low-density gas, and so to store the necessary quantity
to provide adequate driving range to a car, very large or high-pressure tanks are required.
This is obviously not all that desirable because high pressures can be dangerous and
difficult to use and larger tanks consume a lot of vehicle space and weight. However, as
hydrogen storage tanks increase in pressure – the latest are available at pressures up to
10,000 psi – vehicle range rivals that of conventional gasoline vehicles.
There are several other methods of storing hydrogen that
look promising for the future. None have reached a point
where they can be integrated into our car, but ten years
from now they may well have replaced compressed
hydrogen tanks. The first option involves storing
hydrogen by binding it in a metal. The metal compound is
heated, and it absorbs hydrogen. Done correctly, this
allows for the storage of more hydrogen molecules per
volume than with pressurized tanks. However, the total
weight per mole of hydrogen is more than with
conventional pressurized tanks. The process is also more
Figure 6: A seemly ordinary complicated; the metal has to be heated when hydrogen is
hydrogen tank, the BL-400
can actually store up to 400 being pumped in, and heated again to get the hydrogen
liters of H2 by compressing it
into a metal. Image from out. This would create an additional drain on a fuel cell in
a car, decreasing the overall efficiency slightly. This
system also has another advantage: even if the tank is broken open, the hydrogen cannot
leak out because it is bound to the metal. The car becomes even safer in an accident
because a hydrogen fire would be extremely unlikely.
Another option is storing hydrogen as a liquid instead of a gas. However, to liquefy,
hydrogen must decrease to a temperature only 20 K above absolute zero. This requires
quite a lot of energy, and it is difficult to maintain such a low temperature in a car. While
a few prototype vehicles exist that store hydrogen as a liquid, it is unlikely this technique
will become a practical option given our current technology.
Other schemes are also in development. One of the more promising options involves
storing hydrogen in carbon nanotubes. Like metal storage, this increases the number of
hydrogen molecules per volume, thus creating smaller fuel tanks and longer vehicle
range. This option is still too new to be considered at this point.
Consequently, the most viable plan at this time is to use hydrogen storage tanks with
5000 psi compression capabilities, which is the current industry standard for such
Vehicular Hydrogen Requirements
The size of the tanks used will depend on the amount of hydrogen the vehicle needs. The
car requires a range of around 250 miles per tank to be competitive.
250 miles = about 400 kilometers
It would be extremely difficult to calculate the average number of joules a car expends
going 250 miles. However, a rough estimate can be done by calculating air resistance of a
vehicle going 60 mph for 250 miles. Rolling resistance is less significant than air
resistance, and can vary widely depending on a number of factors concerning the vehicle,
tires, and road surface. It will be left out of this estimate. Because we have regenerative
braking, much of the excess energy used in acceleration during this hypothetical trip will
be regained during braking. For the sake of simplicity, acceleration will be ignored; it
will be assumed that the car begins and ends the 250 mile trip going 60 mph. These
assumptions will doubtlessly cause the fuel estimation to be optimistically low.
The proposed vehicle (see Performance Calculations) loses approximates 6.3 kW of
power to air resistance during a 250 mile trip at 60 mph.
250 miles / 60 mph = 4.17 hours
6.3 kW * 4.17 hours = 26.271 kWh (9.5 x 107 joules)
Therefore, it takes 9.5 x 107 joules to move a car 250 miles at 60 mph.
Hydrogen holds 118,800 kJ (33 kWh) of energy per kilogram. This turns out to be
remarkably similar to the amount of energy per gallon of gas. Like a combustion engine,
however, a fuel cell is not 100 % efficient. Some of the energy is converted into heat.
Then, of course, there are further inefficiencies within the vehicle which need to be taken
50% Fuel Cell * 90% Controller * 90% Motor * 90% Drivetrain = 36% total efficiency
These estimates are slightly conservative; a well designed AC motor can reach
efficiencies of over 95%, and the drivetrain, if a fixed gearbox is used instead of a
transmission, should also be better. PEM fuel cells theoretically max out at an efficiency
of 83%, a number yielded from calculating the resulting energy from the combustion of
oxygen and hydrogen. In the future, there is no reason to suspect fuel cells will not move
closer towards their maximum theoretical efficiency. For the record, gasoline engines are
about 15% efficient, with those in larger SUVs and trucks obviously even less.
118,800 J * 36% = 42,768 J of usable energy / kg of H2
9.5 x 107 J / 4.28 x 104 J/kg = 2.2 kg of hydrogen
A way to check this estimation is by looking at current prototype vehicles.
Prototype Vehicle Year Range Hydrogen (kg)
Honda FCX 2002 220 miles 3.75 kg
Toyota FCHV-4 2001 155 miles ~ 3 kg
GM Hy-Wire ? 80 miles 2 kg
Ford Focus FCV-Hybrid 2004 160-200 miles 4 kg ?
As you can see, there is quite a lot of variation in vehicle range. The range depends just
as much on other factors as it does on the amount of hydrogen fuel the vehicle has at its
disposal. However, it can be seen that the estimation reached earlier is optimistic. This
makes sense, considering that rolling resistance and acceleration were both ignored.
Nevertheless, by looking at our estimation and the real-world prototypes, the H2 quantity
necessary can be realistically estimated. The car should be able to hold at least 3 kg of
hydrogen and closer to 3.5 kg if possible. This will hopefully enable around 250 miles
per tank at highway driving speeds. City driving will probably cut down on the range;
however, regenerative braking will make up a portion of the potential losses.
While 3 kg of hydrogen may not sound like a lot, it is considerable when you calculate
the volume it would occupy at standard pressure. H2 has a molar mass of 2, and so 3000
grams (3 kg = 3000 g) equals 1500 moles. At STP (standard temperature – 25 degrees C,
and pressure – sea level) an ideal gas such as hydrogen occupies 22.4 liters of space per
22.4 * 1,500 = 33,600 liters
As 3 kg of hydrogen could fill 33,600 liters of space, you can see why extreme pressures
are needed to compress it to a practical volume.
One manufacturer of hydrogen tanks is Dynetek Industries Ltd. They build 5000 psi
hydrogen tanks specifically for vehicular applications that are lightweight and have fast-
filling capabilities. This is important, because filling a tank to 5000 psi suddenly creates a
lot of friction and heat. Dynetek’s tanks are designed to handle this, enabling refueling
times on the order of minutes.
The tanks are still rather large and heavy compared to the amount of hydrogen they store.
Dynetek’s largest tanks are nearly 7 feet long, and unless the chassis has been specifically
designed to accommodate this, the tank is impractical due to its weight and size.
However, smaller tanks do not hold more than 2 kg. In a smaller car, therefore, the only
reasonable option is to use two or more smaller tanks. This will complicate the fuel
system, but may be necessary to provide the vehicle with a range comparable to
Model Size Weight Capacity per tank
V 74 (x2) 399 x 900 mm (15.7 x 35.4”) 35.4 kg (78 lbs) 1.79 kg
W 150 413 x 1534 mm (16.3x60.4”) 65.6 kg (144.5 lbs) 3.63 kg
Either option above would work. One model W 150 would be sufficient; however, it is
over 5 feet long. If it could fit in the vehicle, it would allow for the simplest refueling and
hydrogen gas line plumbing.
The other option, two V 74s, would provide a total storage of 3.58 kg of hydrogen.
However, additional fuel lines would be necessary to connect the two tanks.
Unfortunately, while the simplest method would be to connect the two tanks together
with a gas line and treat them as a single tank, it is not a good idea to have a thin fuel line
pumped at 5000 psi. The line should be able to handle it, but it is dangerous to have a fuel
line at such a high pressure when driving. The tanks are specifically designed to resist
breaking in a collision to minimize the amount of hydrogen that could leak into the
atmosphere. Having a 5000 psi line connecting the two tanks would cancel out some of
this built-in safety. Consequently, the pressure will need to be stepped down by valves at
the exit of each tank to the lower pressure used by the fuel cell. Only then can the two
tanks be merged into one fuel line, going to the fuel cell. It may also be necessary to fill
each tank independently when refueling the car, although clever designing could get
Hydrogen Fuel Lines
The two schemes for fuel lines depend on the tanks chosen above. A W 150 would need
only a connection to the outside of the car and to the fuel cell. Two V74s would also need
to be connected together. The two diagrams on the next page illustrate the two schemes.
Figure 7: A single tank (W150) system. As you can see, it is extremely simple.
Figure 8: A double tank (two V 74s) system. It is only slightly more
The hydrogen gas lines themselves would be fairly simple. They could be made out of
thin flexible metal pipe as the hydrogen flow rate is small. Ideally, the hydrogen tanks
would be located next to the fuel cell, so the length of the fuel lines and the consequent
risk they would pose in an accident would be minimized. The tanks also need to be
located so they can be conveniently refilled.
In place of the combustion engine powering modern automobiles, a fuel cell vehicle
receives its mechanical power from an electric motor. As mentioned in the Hydrogen
Future section of this booklet, electric motors are particularly well suited to powering
vehicles as they have relatively high torque outputs and wide rpm operating ranges when
compared to standard combustion engines.
Both DC and AC motors can be used in conjunction with fuel cell systems; however,
there are several fundamental and significant differences to consider when selecting a
motor. DC motors are much simpler to install and control and for this reason they are
historically found in earlier or homemade
electric vehicles. A DC motor system is
also less expensive, particularly because
the DC motor controllers are much less
complex than AC controllers. Also of
note, most DC motors can be driven far
above their rated limits for short amounts
of time. This allows for added power in
acceleration, which is ideal for automotive
applications. Despite being inexpensive Figure 9: A NetGain WarP 9" DC motor. We
were seriously considering this motor before
and simple to control there are many we decided to go AC. Image from
drawbacks to DC motors. DC motors of
the size needed to power a vehicle are not commonly mass manufactured and can be hard
to find. They also require more maintenance and the motor itself is more complicated
than a comparable AC motor. Finally, one of the most grievous downfalls of DC motors
is that they are inefficient when used as a generator and are seldom used in conjunction
with regenerative braking systems.
AC motors have numerous disadvantages as well. AC motors require an AC power
source, and since the rest of the electrical systems run on DC power, this requires at least
one and possibly several DC to AC power converters. However, many AC motor
controllers include built in power converters, which could reduce or eliminate the use of
separate power converters. Unfortunately AC motor controllers are very expensive due to
the complex nature of controlling an AC motor, another downfall of an AC motor system.
In our design we decided an AC motor would best fit our needs due to the great
efficiency of the motor when used in regenerative braking, the simplicity and reliability
of AC motors, the low cost of the motor, and because AC motors are widely
manufactured in the size, weight, and power, requirements we anticipate for use in
powering an automobile.
The following table outlines the motor specifications we find necessary. These were
determined both by calculating the power required to accelerate a vehicle at the pace we
want, and by looking at currently available motors on the market for electric vehicles.
The following specs match what most electric-vehicle manufacturers consider
Average Power 20 kW
Maximum Power 100 kW
Maximum Torque 100+ ft/lbs
Maximum Weight 200 lbs
The average desired power is the energy needed to overcome rolling friction and wind
resistance. Most of the time a vehicle is not accelerating, and so the only thing the motor
is overcoming is friction. Consequently, the average power requirement is low. Both the
maximum power and torque need to be high, however, because we want the vehicle to
have competitive performance. Torque is the primary determinate for acceleration
whereas maximum power determines top speed. We wanted a maximum torque of at least
100 lb-ft, and more if we can get it. Acceleration is critical to the success of a vehicle.
However, few motors currently designed for electric vehicles have torques much higher
than 100 lb-ft without having excessive weight and maximum power. Weight needs to be
kept down for obvious reasons; the lighter the car, the better the performance.
Such motors are not exceedingly hard to come by, and we have found two motors that
meet our requirements and that we are considering for our design. Both the MES 200-
250 and the Siemens 1PV5133-4WS18 are feasible..
The following is a chart of the specifications of both the MES 200-250 and the Siemens
Specification MES 200-250 Siemens 1PV5133-4WS18
Average Power 30 kW (40.8 hp) 30 kW (40.8 hp)
Maximum Power 94.8 kW (123 hp) 78.4 kW (106.6 hp)
Weight 61 kg (134 lb) 68 kg (150 lb)
Rated Torque 100 Nm (73.8 ft-lb) 85 Nm (62 ft-lb)
Maximum Torque n/a (estimated 250 Nm) 175 Nm (129 ft-lb)
Rated RPM 2,850 RPM 3,500 RPM
Maximum RPM 9,000 RPM 9,700 RPM
The MES 200-250 is our preferred motor as it has specifications that are slightly more
favorable to our project. The MES unit weighs 134 lb, which is a reasonably low weight.
The power, RPM and torque are all reasonable, and the engine can be bought with an
attached gearbox, which is extremely useful for our design. The Siemens 1PV5133-
4WS18 is similar; however, its rpm range is slightly higher, max at 9,700. It is slightly
less powerful, max power of 78.4 kW and 106.6 hp. And it weighs 150 lb. Additionally
the Siemens motor does not have a gearbox available; because of this we would need a
custom designed and manufactured
gearbox that might be fairly
expensive. Ideally we would like to
have a higher torque, lower weight
motor that has a very wide rpm band
and a straighter torque curve. While
the motors we selected aren’t prefect
in these aspects they are a much
closer fit than the combustion
engines currently being used in the
Figure 10: The MES 200-250 AC motor. Image from
metricmind.com. automotive industry.
For information on specific performance of these two motors, see the section on
A transmission is not necessary in a hydrogen car because of the superior nature of
electric motors. Electric motor’s wide RPM range allows them to power the car through a
direct gear ratio and stay efficient over the full spectrum of speeds. Electric motors create
the highest torque at lower
RPMs, which is when the
majority of vehicles need it the
most. At higher speeds the torque
decreases (as it does in a gasoline
engine with a transmission) and
consequently acceleration at high
speeds will not be as effective as
at low speeds. This, however, is
similar to performance of Figure 11: MES-DEA Carraro gear box. Image from
vehicles today. In the future,
motors may be mass-produced and perfected to deliver higher torque over even wider
ranges, thus making acceleration at all speeds excellent. Skipping a transmission is yet
one more way in which hydrogen cars can be more efficient and simpler than internal
An electric motor will still need a fixed gear box to provide the most efficient use of the
motor’s torque. The MES 200-250 comes with a fixed gear transmission designed to fit
AC Motor Controller
An AC motor will need an AC controller. The car will need some way for signals from
the driver’s foot pressing on the accelerator petal to reach the motor and tell it to
accelerate. Compared to the simpler DC motor, an AC motor is trickier to control – with
DC, these signals could directly control the current running the motor. An AC motor,
however, requires a controller that can read the amount that the driver has pushed down
on the petal and then transform the DC power coming from the fuel cells to the correct
amount and frequency of AC power. This is primarily why AC controllers are more
expensive. Additionally, there may be slightly more power
losses in an AC controller, but this is balanced by the fact
that the average AC motor is more efficient.
The AC controller behaves in response to the petal, which in
this case is connected to a potentiometer. A waterproof
Figure 12: A Bosch
potentiometer designed to work with these controllers via a
potentiometer designed to
be attached to the RS232 interface is made by Bosch. It can easily be attached
accelerator petal. Image
from metricmind.com. to a foot petal.
The AC controller also makes regenerative braking possible. Most commercial AC
controllers (designed for conventional electric vehicles) have regenerative braking built
in, as it is not very difficult to integrate. Most DC controllers, on the other hand, lack this
important feature. This was considered in the Motor section.
The choice of AC controller depends largely on the AC motor used. Each manufacturer
(Siemens and MES-DEA) produces a motor controller designed specifically for their
motor. Matching the manufacture’s controller with the manufacture’s motor will result in
the greatest efficiency and the easiest setup. Therefore, the final decision on the controller
will go hand in hand
with the motor.
The Siemens Simotion
or the MES-DEA
The two controllers are
Both are water-cooled
Figure 13: MES-DEA TIM-600 (photo from metricmind.com)
and feature regenerative
braking capabilities. Both handle the conversion from DC to AC because this is an
integral part of controlling the vehicle’s acceleration. Both max out at 100 kW, perfect
for our application.
Input voltage max 380 V
Input current max 282 A
Weight 17 kg (30.8 lbs)
Dimensions 47 cm x 20 cm x 18 cm (18.5” x 7.9” x 7.1”)
Total Volume 9,900 cubic cm (650 cubic inches)
Input voltage max 400 V
Input current max 325 A
Weight 10 kg (22 lbs)
Dimensions 33 cm x 25 cm x 12 cm (13” x 10” x 5”)
Total Volume 9,900 cubic cm (650 cubic inches)
The MES-DEA appears to be slightly better than the Siemens in terms of higher power
input, size, and weight. However, the difference is slight enough that the controller
should not be the determining factor in the decision between manufacturers.
Regenerative braking has greatly benefited hybrid cars, increasing both their range and
efficiency. Regenerative braking requires an electrical power system, and so is
impossible to incorporate into a conventional internal combustion vehicle. With electric
and hydrogen cars, it is easy to implement.
Regenerative braking recaptures the kinetic energy of a vehicle when it brakes. A car
traveling at 30 mph has significant kinetic energy; it used a lot of fuel to get its mass
going that fast. When a normal car brakes, all that energy is transformed to heat in the
brakes and is essentially wasted. With regenerative braking, that energy is used to turn a
generator and charge up a battery, or in our case, a bank of ultracapacitors. The generator
is often the very same motor that powers the car – one advantage of electric motors is that
while putting electricity in turns the motor, turning the motor also sends electricity out.
Regenerative braking can therefore be incorporated into the system with little addition to
the vehicle’s weight.
In practical terms, regenerative braking is handled by the motor controller. The brake
petal will be attached to the controller. When the driver wants to brake, he or she will
push down on the petal in the normal fashion. This will send a signal to the controller to
open up the connection to the ultracapacitors, which will effectively put a load on the
generator (the motor). Because the motor is connected to the wheels, it will be spinning
with the wheels. Adding a load (the ultracaps) will force the motor to generate electricity.
Because the energy comes form the kinetic energy of the vehicle, the motor will slow
down as it charges the ultracaps, slowing the wheels and thereby the car. The rate at
which the motor slows the vehicle will be determined by the controller and in turn by the
amount the driver pushes down on the brake petal. All this happens in real time, and
many drivers would not notice the difference between regenerative and conventional
For normal braking situations, regenerative braking is all that is necessary. However, it
would be wise to include regular friction brakes in case of an emergency. Also, long
downward hills would generate more electricity than the ultracapacitors could hold. After
the capacitors filled up, regenerative braking would no longer slow the car. Friction
brakes would be necessary to allow the driver to maintain control of his or her vehicle.
For that reason, in a hydrogen vehicle conventional brakes would also be connected to
the brake petal, albeit at a level where they would not engage until the petal was pressed
most of the way down. If a driver slammed on the brakes, both the regenerative and
conventional brakes would go on, giving the car maximum braking power. Otherwise
only regenerative braking would come into play, as long as the ultracapacitors are not
For more information the specific energy involved in regenerative braking, see the
section on Ultracapacitors. In summary, our car will contain enough ultracapacitors to
store 225,000 Joules of energy, which is the approximate amount that a car, given some
internal inefficiency, can gain from a 44 mph deceleration to zero. Ideally, for
regenerative braking to be most effective, the ultracaps should be able to store all the
power generated from any deceleration. However, having that quantity of ultracapacitors
is not feasible at this point in time. Regenerative braking can still be very effective,
especially in city driving, even if it can capture the energy from only a 44 mph speed
Because regenerative braking reclaims energy, it can provide the car with an extra boost
of power during acceleration. Not only will the energy allow for the fuel cell to spend
less time running, and therefore consume hydrogen at a slower rate, but it can also be
used to augment the fuel cell and provide the motor with more power. If the driver “puts
the petal to the metal,” both the fuel cell and the ultracaps power the motor. Because the
motor tops out at 100 kW, this means that the total power provided by the fuel cell and
ultracaps should not exceed 100 kW. Therefore, instead of needing a 100 kW fuel cell to
completely take advantage of the motor, the car can now have only an 80 kW fuel cell
and 20 kW of ultracaps. Other combinations for further decreasing the fuel cell size are
possible – see the section on the Fuel Cells for more details.
Finally, regenerative braking will reduce pollution caused by ordinary brakes.
Surprisingly, brake pad dust is the second largest cause of pollution among some urban
highways. Regenerative braking will greatly decrease the rate at which standard brakes
are used, thereby decrease pollution from brake pad dust.
Intermediate Energy Storage
It is possible to run a hydrogen car directly off the fuel cell. The fuel cell would burn
hydrogen as needed to directly power the controller and motor. This solution has merit
because it is simpler and cheaper. However, for this application it is not the best solution.
Adding an intermediate energy storage system will have multiple benefits:
1. Allow for the addition of regenerative braking to the system, thereby increasing
2. Provide additional power to augment the fuel cells during acceleration
Regenerative braking has been of great benefit to hybrid gas-electric vehicles by storing
energy normally lost during braking to be reused during acceleration. This further
increases the efficiency and range of the vehicle. Regenerative braking can easily be
integrated into a hydrogen vehicle because the system is completely electrical. However,
regenerative braking requires intermediate energy storage to store the energy captured
Having temporarily stored power will be useful during acceleration. The energy storage
devices can be charged by either regenerative braking or by the fuel cell when it is not
already running at peak power, such as when the vehicle is maintaining a constant speed.
This stored energy can then be added to the max output of the fuel cells to increase
acceleration. Because acceleration uses the most power, it determines the size of the fuel
cell. Adding intermediate energy storage devices allow the fuel cell to decrease in size
while maintaining the same potential rate of acceleration, thereby decreasing the weight
of the fuel cell. This will in turn decrease the weight of the vehicle, because the power
density of an intermediate storage device (if ultracapacitors are used, anyway) is higher
than that of a fuel cell.
Therefore, any fully developed hydrogen vehicle will have a form of temporary energy
Batteries or Ultracapacitors?
There are currently two forms of energy storage solutions that exist in the market today.
The first is the tried-and-true battery, which currently serves to capture energy from
regenerative braking in most hybrid vehicles. The second is a newer technology,
ultracapacitors, which have several benefits and drawbacks compared to batteries.
Ultracapacitors are a type of capacitor and so do not store energy in a chemical reaction
as batteries do. The major relevant difference between ultracapacitors and batteries has to
do with their energy storage capabilities. Batteries can hold ten times or more watt-hours
per kilograms than ultracapacitors, and can therefore store more energy. However,
ultracapacitors have a much higher power density, at around 10 times more watts per
kilograms than batteries. Also, ultracapacitors can charge and discharge much faster than
batteries, in the order of seconds, not hours. The have a much longer life, in excess of
For a hydrogen car, the energy must be stored and
surrendered quickly. Braking from 60 mph down to
zero happens in seconds. Similarly, the car will
accelerate to cruising speed in less than a minute,
depending on the tendencies of the driver.
Ultracapacitors, with a higher power density, are
better suited to this. In an electric vehicle, which is
similar to a hydrogen car, large amounts of power
needs to be stored to maximize the vehicle’s range,
so batteries are used. In a hydrogen car, however,
range will depend only on amount of H2 stored. The
temporary energy storage devices need to hold little
Figure 14: Two batteries suitable
for electric vehicles. Image from relative energy but be able to move that energy
Electro Automotive at
quickly. Ultracapacitors are better suited to this
The application also involves completely cycling the energy storage device from empty
to full to empty. This would decrease the lifetime of batteries further, but have little
detrimental effect of ultracapacitors. Batteries in a hydrogen car would probably have to
be replaced at least once, while ultracapacitors would last the lifetime of the car. Finally,
the fact that ultracapacitors are lighter is no small benefit. Therefore, we have decided to
incorporate ultracapacitors instead of batteries into our vehicle design.
The decision regarding the amount of ultracapacitors is based primarily on regenerative
braking. We originally wanted to be able to capture all the energy theatrically generated
by a vehicle decelerating from 60 mph to 0 mph. This is dependant on the weight, and
because that is not finalized we used an estimate of 3500 lbs. It will hopefully be less.
The energy gathered from a deceleration to zero is as follows:
Kinetic Energy = ½ (mass) (velocity)2
3,500 lbs = 1,589 kg 60 mph = 26.817 m/s
½ (1589) (26.817)2 = 571,365 joules
A decent car can decelerate from 60 to 0 in around 7 seconds.
571,365 / 7 = 81,623 watts or 82 kW
These numbers represent the absolute maximum energy you could extract from a moving
car. This, as you can see, is quite a lot of energy. Ultracapacitors are not designed to store
this volume of energy. Batteries would fail to deliver the 82 kW rate of power in a
reasonable weight. Therefore, storing this amount of energy is not feasible. Even after the
consideration of inefficiencies due to friction and the electrical components, this number
is simply too large. An alternative solution is needed.
All things considered, a car does not go directly from 60 to 0 all that regularly. Often the
vehicle goes only from 30 to 0 when, say, the driver pulls off a town road and into his or
her driveway. Or perhaps the vehicle brakes from 45 on a country road to 0. In either
situation, far fewer ultracapacitors are needed. It should be reasonable to incorporate
enough ultracapacitors to be able to capture all the energy in many braking situations
where the speed change is not so great. For a 60 to 0 deceleration, the majority of the
energy will be still be regained. If that 60 to 0 deceleration does not occur all at once, it
may still be possible to capture all the energy. If, for instance, the vehicle brakes from 60
to 45 when it enters a developed area, the ultracapacitors can store all that power. The car
may than drive for a little while, draining the ultracaps, and thereby enabling them to
store the energy from any subsequent deceleration.
Analyzing the kinetic energy of a moving car at various velocities shows that a decrease
in speed corresponds with a decrease in energy as an inverse square (as you would expect
from the KE equation). The nature of the physics will enable the vehicle to be able to
handle all the energy from a deceleration of nearly 60 to 0 while having significantly
∆v to 0 (mph) ∆v (m/s) Mass (kg) Resultant max kinetic energy
30 13.4 1589 142,660 J
40 17.9 1589 254,566 J
45 20.1 1589 320,986 J
50 22.4 1589 398,648 J
60 26.8 1589 571,365 J
We would like to keep the total weight of the ultracaps below 50 lbs and the total volume
inside a cubic foot. Cost is also an issue, but the price of ultracapacitors has decreased in
recent years and would continue to do so if they were implemented in a mass-produced
vehicle. Cost, therefore, will only be considered in extreme cases (such as when buying
enough ultracaps to handle the 60-0 mph speed change).
Before the number of ultracapacitors is decided, inefficiency of the system must be taken
into account. The efficiency of charging the ultracapacitors via regenerative braking will
not exceed the net controller, motor, and drivetrain efficiency. This is:
Motor Efficiency * Drivetrain Efficiency * Controller Efficiency = Net Efficiency
90% * 90% * 90% = 73%
Finally, it is important to take into account the other function of ultracapacitors besides
that of regenerative braking. The ultracapacitors are also used to increase vehicular
acceleration by augmenting the fuel cells. In this case, the more ultracaps, the better. The
motor and controller max out at 100 kW (see the sections on Motors and Controllers), so
the net power provided by both the fuel cells and the ultracaps should not exceed this
value. The motor will probably not be run at 100 kW for more than 10 seconds, the
approximate time it will take to go from 0 to 60 mph. While the fuel cells will have to do
most of the work during these 10 seconds, the ultracaps should be able to contribute. If
the ultracapacitors are going to have any reasonable impact, they should run at 20 kW or
more. Running the ultracaps at 20 kW for ten seconds will require them to have at least
200,000 joules of stored power.
Desired Ultracapacitor Characteristics:
Maximum Weight: 50 lbs (22.7 kg)
Maximum Volume: 1 cubic foot (28.3 liters)
Minimum Stored Power: 200,000 J
Power Rate: 20 kW
Example Solution: Maxwell Ultracapacitors
There are several manufacturers of ultracapacitors, and
ideally one would go with the cheapest solution. Any
type of ultracapacitors that meet the specs will do. For
the purposes of this booklet, we have chosen to go with
Maxwell’s BCAP0008 ultracapacitors. The analysis,
using specific ultracapacitors, will give us good
Figure 15: Maxwell BCAP0008
estimates in terms of weight, cost and viability. If we ultracapacitor (from
were to actually build the car, we would go with
whatever was available.
The BCAP0008 Ultracapacitors last several hundred thousand cycles and are shock and
A single BCAP0008 ultracapacitor has the following specs:
Capacitance: 1,800 Farads
Voltage: 2.5 V
Max Current: 450 A
Stored Energy: 5625 Joules
Weight: 400 g
Volume: .3 liters
Using the BCAP0008 specs, around 55 ultracaps would total 50 lbs. A volume of 1 cubic
foot would hold up to 90 capacitors.
The minimum number required to hold 200,000 joules is
200,000 J / 5625 J = 36 ultracaps
The capacitors can handle up to 450 A, so running at 20 kW requires
20 kW / 450 A = 44 V
44 V / 2.5 V per cap = 18 ultracaps
Therefore, we want a number of ultracaps somewhere between 36 and 55. To keep cost,
weight and volume down, the number of caps should be closer to 36. We have decided to
go with 40.
Having determined this, a few quick calculations will yield exact data:
40 * 5256 J = 225,000 J total storage
225,000 J / 73% efficiency = 308,220 J
√ [308,220 / (½ * 1589 kg)] = 19.7 m/s = 44 mph
Therefore, the ultracapacitors can handle all the power generated from a 44 mph
deceleration. Energy from a single deceleration of any more than that will be wasted as
To keep the amperage down, the capacitors would be connected in series.
40 * 2.5 V = 100 V total
100 V * 450 A = 45 kW max
225,000 J / 45 kW = 5 seconds
Therefore, if the car brakes from 44 mph down to 0 in less than 5 seconds, the
ultracapacitors will not be able to absorb all the energy. This is perfectly reasonably as it
is unlikely that a driver will slow the car that rapidly during normal driving. Additionally,
in the case where a driver needs to stop extremely quickly and stomps on the brake petal,
both conventional and regenerative brakes will come into play (see the section on
Regenerative Braking). During acceleration, it is likely that the caps would be run at only
20 kW, thus reducing the amperage and the time to drain them.
225,000 / 20 kW = 11.25 seconds until empty
A DC-DC converter will most likely be required at some point to step the 100V
capacitors up to the higher voltage that the motor controller requires.
And for physical characteristics:
40 * 400 g = 16 kg
40 * .3 L = 12 L
It should be noted that while the volume of each ultracapacitor is .3 L, they are
cylindrical, so it would be impossible to fit them in only a 12 liter space. However,
because each ultracap is a separate device, it should be feasible to pack them around other
components, thereby maximizing space usage.
Final Results: BCAP0008 Quantity: 40
Total Storage: 225,000 Joules
Net Voltage: 100 V
Total Power Rate: 45 kW
Total Weight: 16 kg (35 lbs)
Minimum Volume: 12 L (.4 cubic feet)
Platform Vehicle and Modifications
As the primary goal of our project and of fuel cell vehicles is to limit the use of fuel and
to increase the efficiency of automobiles it would be ideal to build the vehicle on an
extremely lightweight and aerodynamic chassis. This in mind the most effective chassis
for our project would be a chassis and body constructed of aluminum or carbon fiber and
having an aerodynamic drag coefficient of less than .30. As weight is a very important
factor in the construction of an efficient high-performance vehicle, a smaller chassis and
body is more desirable. A two-door sport car type body is the most attractive solution to
the design. However, it may be difficult to fit the necessary components into a small car.
For this reason a rear-wheel type drive train may be beneficial as it allows the drive train
components to be spread down the length of the car, providing more room under the hood
and in the trunk of the car. While a custom-designed and built body and chassis would be
most desirable, it is at this point out of reach of our project. A custom-built body and
chassis would be very expensive and require an extremely high amount of work and time.
Using a custom frame and body, we would also be forced to incorporate all other
components of standard automobiles into our design (steering, braking, suspension, and
electronic systems). Additionally, it would be exceedingly difficult to obtain the proper
authorization to make the car street-legal. For these reasons we will simply redesign an
existing vehicle to meet the requirements of the fuel cell systems. The following is a list
of traits desired for the platform vehicle:
• Low Weight
• Low Drag Design
• Large Area Under Hood
• Large Storage Area
• Even Weight Distribution
• Well Designed Factory Steering, Suspension, and Braking Systems
• Two Wheel Drive Type – Rear
• Easily Redesigned / Removed Drive Train.
There are several cars that meet with our requirements and are not difficult to obtain. Of
these, a second generation Mazda RX-7 meets almost every desired trait while offering
outstanding performance with respect to steering, suspension, and braking. These cars
also offer low weight, low drag, plenty of room under the hood and in the back of the car,
and a nearly perfect front to back weight distribution. The low weight and drag as well as
the higher performance factory components are especially important to our project as we
wish to promote the value of fuel cell vehicles not only as a clean and efficient alternative
to combustion engine vehicles, but also as vehicles that can rival combustion powered
cars in performance on the street. As mentioned above weight is one of the most critical
aspects of building an efficient high performing vehicle. The RX-7 weighs only 2,800
lbs from the factory and many of the heavier components of the car, such as the engine,
transmission, and gas tank, can be removed as they will be replaced by the fuel cell
system. (See the Performance Analysis section for a chart detailing the weights of
components for the fuel cell system.) Despite the fact that many heavy components can
be removed the final weight of the fuel cell vehicle will likely be larger than the weight
of the platform vehicle as the fuel cell stack and fuel tanks can be quite heavy.
Figure 16: A Mazda RX-7. Image from
In addition to removing many gasoline components several other modifications must be
made to the platform vehicle. As a general rule we have found that it is best to use
existing systems to the largest extent possible and to modify the factory systems only
when required. Many of the components being added as parts of the fuel cell system will
require redesigned mounts. The engine in particular will need to have quite stable mounts
and these must be fitted exactly to the motor. Such strong mounts are required as a large
amount of torque will be exerted on the engine during acceleration. As these mounts must
be extremely stable it seems the best solution is to simply design a sub frame that would
attach to the existing engine mounts and to the electric motor. This approach is much
simpler than welding a completely separate mounting system to the frame and should be
much less expensive.
The mounting and powering of the vehicle’s subsystem compressors and pumps must
also be modified. In modern vehicles the pumps and compressors for systems such as the
cooling, power steering, air conditioning, power braking, and vacuum systems are all
powered by a belt-pulley system connected to the crank pulley located at the front of the
engine. As the electric motors that we are considering in our design do not have both
front and rear drive shafts this technique is not possible. To power the pumps and
compressors of the accessory systems the crank pulley of a combustion engine must be
replaced with a small electric motor that can power the subsystems through the original
technique of belts and pulleys. This requires a very small amount of modification to
these systems thus providing for a cost and time-effective solution. However, several
other considerations must be made. As these components mount to the engine block in
the original design, new mounts must be made. If the accessories requiring new mounts
are light enough it would be possible, and most logical, to construct a mounting system
that would secure the pumps and compressors to the side of the engine compartment. If,
however, the components are heavier and the engine compartment walls do not provide
adequate strength a system for mounting the accessories to either the frame, engine
mounts or suspension crossbeam should be implemented. In addition to considering new
engine mounts the matter of engine vacuum must also be taken into account. In most
modern cars numerous systems are powered or controlled by engine vacuum. As electric
motors do not create this vacuum, a small electric air pump must be installed as a
replacement. This pump may need a basic controller in order to properly mimic the
pressure created by a combustion engine.
A final modification that should be made to the vehicle is the replacement of the tires.
While this may seem rather insignificant, a set of harder, high-pressure tires can increase
the efficiency and performance of the vehicle quite appreciably by reducing the amount
of deformation of the tires during driving. As this deformation creates heat and requires
mechanical energy itself it is clearly inefficiency and a waste of energy. This problem
can be minimized with addition of the aforementioned tires.
Also of importance when discussing the platform vehicle is the location of the fuel cell
components. Ideally all components would be located in close proximity to each other.
Extremely high amounts of electric power, as well as pressurized hydrogen gas, must be
transported between fuel cell components, which can be rather difficult. Unfortunately,
there is not enough room either under the hood or in the back of the car to accommodate
all of the components. For this reason the fuel cell stack as well as the hydrogen tanks
will be located in the back of the car, while the motor, controllers, ultracapacitors, and
gearbox will be located under the hood. This design minimizes the distance the high-
power electric cables and hydrogen lines will have to travel. The hydrogen lines will be
limited to the distance from the tanks to the fuel cells; the tanks and fuel cells will be in
close proximity to each other, both units being located in the back of the car. This
location is also desirable for the hydrogen containing components, as it does not require
the hydrogen lines to run under the passenger compartment, thus avoiding serious safety
issues due to a hydrogen leak. Unfortunately, high power electric lines must be run the
length of the car to supply power from the fuel cells to the motor and ultracapacitors.
However, the majority of the lines will be running between components in the engine
compartment such as the motor, controller, and ultracapacitors. These lines, while
numerous, will be quite short, thusly reducing the amount of energy lost to the resistance
of the wires. The wires that will be installed to carry the electricity from the fuel cells to
the motor must be quite heavy in gauge and very low in resistance. It would be best to
have braided cables, and an effort must be made to run the wires along the shortest path
possible from the cells to the motor.
Many elements of a hydrogen car require cooling. The motor, controller and fuel cells
will all need water cooling. The water cooling system can probably be integrated together
so that only one circulation method is needed. Additionally, these systems will be used to
heat the cabin when the driver requires it. The water can also be circulated through the
radiator in the same manner as in a conventional car, venting the heat out into the air.
Because both the motor and controller are far more efficient than the internal combustion
engine in a regular vehicle, they do not need such a large radiator and cooling system.
This will decrease the cost and complicity of a hydrogen vehicle as compared to a
conventional car. However, when converting a car to run off hydrogen, it is simply
easiest to use the radiator and cooling system already there.
It is important to ensure the motor in particular receives adequate cooling. As the wires in
the circuitry of the motor heat up, they become more resistant. A higher resistance
decreases the current flowing to motor (as given by the equation V = I * R), and so the
motor becomes less powerful. Besides preventing the components from burning out,
system cooling assures you will have maximum power.
The specifics of the cooling system will be determined primarily by the final location of
each component. As it is impossible to say at this point in time where the fuel cell will be
located in the chassis, it is impossible to describe exactly how it will be cooled. If it is
under the hood, cooling lines can simply be run over to the radiator. If it is under the
vehicle, however, a different solution may be needed depending on how the cooling
hoses can be run. Additionally, the fuel cell may (in the case of Ballard’s) have a cooling
system already built in, and until the details on that system is fully determined, it is
impossible to say if and how that system would tie into the rest of the car.
Now that the various components have been determined, it is possible to perform some
rough estimates on the vehicle’s performance.
Before the vehicle’s acceleration can be estimated, the total weight of the car must be
found. It is impossible at this stage to provide a perfect estimate of the vehicle’s weight,
but a likely range can be determined.
a conservative estimate: an optimistic estimate:
mass kg lbs kg lbs
h2 tank 110 242 110 242
fuel cell stack 220 484 96 211.2
motor 61 134.2 61 134.2
controller 20 44 20 44
ultracapacitors 16 35.2 16 35.2
cooling 20 44 20 44
body and frame 1000 2200 900 1980
transmission 90 198 20 44
hydrogen 5.4 11.88 5.4 11.88
misc. components 50 110 100 220
weight 1592.4 3503.28 1348.4 2966.48
There are two different ways to determine the vehicle’s potential acceleration. First, we
ran a few quick calculations based on the simple laws of physics and kinetic energy. It is
possible to calculate how long it takes a 3500 lbs mass to accelerate to various speeds
when 100 kW of power (from the motor) is poured into it.
max theoretical time
KE = power of until velocity is
weight mass v v 1/2 mv^2 motor reached
lbs kg mph m/s joules kilojoules kW seconds
3500 1588 30 13.4 142570.64 142.6 100 1.4
3500 1588 60 26.8 570282.56 570.3 100 5.7
3500 1588 100 44.7 1586483.46 1586.5 100 15.9
This estimation seems to indicate that our car should 60 mph in under 6 seconds, which
would be extremely good. However, this estimation is a poor one because simply running
a motor at 100 kW does not add 100 kW of mechanical energy to the car. Power is
wasted as heat because the motor simply can not accelerate the car at the maximum rate
with no losses.
A better way to estimate vehicular performance is through the motor’s torque (as torque
is the key determinant of acceleration, not horsepower). We determined what torque is
needed to accelerate the car from 0 to 60 mph in 10 seconds. The calculation can be done
all at once (i.e. from 0 mph to 60 mph), but this yields a torque requirement higher than is
really necessary, because it assumes a constant acceleration from 0 all the way to 60. No
car is actually like this; the time in which it reaches 30 mph is significantly less than half
the time it takes to reach 60 mph. Consequently, the best way to make this torque
calculation is to use many short steps of speed change (we chose 5 mph steps) to reach
60. Each step takes a different amount of time, as a vehicle goes from 0 to 5 in far less
time than it does from 55 to 60. We first determined the time that a 100 kW motor should
need to accelerate the car each 5 mph step, and then calculated how much torque that
would require. When considering weight, we erred on the heavy side, using an estimate
of 3500 lbs. Note that these calculations do not yet provide an indication of how well the
car will perform; they simply indicate the torque we need to aim for.
Using these rough estimates of the torque the motor needs to output, we chose our two
motor options. Now, working backwards through the process above, we can find how fast
each specific motor actually will accelerate the car.
The Siemens motor is calculated on the following page.
The Siemens can reach 60 mph in 12 seconds, a little below our hopes, but still perfectly
Unfortunately, we were unable to acquire torque/rpm specs for the MES-DEA 200-250
motor. However, we did find a torque curve for a 21 kW version of the motor, and were
able to calculate performance based on it. The next page details the calculations.
The MES 200-175 can reach 60 mph in around 18 seconds. Our motor of choice, the
MES 200-250, is approximately 150% as powerful. A direct proportion of the motors’
two powers (although this is not good science, it is the only method of approximation we
have) indicates that the MES 200-250 should reach 60 mph in 12 seconds. This is a little
longer than we had hoped, but considering that our estimation technique is poor we
should not throw out the motor yet. Also important to consider is that the MES motor is
slightly more powerful than the Siemens, which reached 60 mph in 12 seconds, and so
the MES should in fact perform better than this.
Some other interesting calculations include air drag. Based on a Mazda RX7 body (see
the Platform Vehicle and Modifications section), our car will have an air resistance at
various speeds as described by the following table:
AIR DRAG P=ACV^3D/2
Vehicle frontal Coefficient speed air density
area m^2 of drag mph m/s kg/m^3 P= (kW lost)
1.784 0.31 10 4.47 1.18 29.14279 0.0
1.784 0.31 20 8.94 1.18 233.1423 0.2
1.784 0.31 30 13.41 1.18 786.8553 0.8
1.784 0.31 40 17.88 1.18 1865.139 1.9
1.784 0.31 50 22.35 1.18 3642.849 3.6
1.784 0.31 60 26.82 1.18 6294.843 6.3
1.784 0.31 70 31.29 1.18 9995.977 10.0
1.784 0.31 80 35.76 1.18 14921.11 14.9
1.784 0.31 90 40.23 1.18 21245.09 21.2
1.784 0.31 100 44.7 1.18 29142.79 29.1
1.784 0.31 110 49.17 1.18 38789.05 38.8
1.784 0.31 120 53.64 1.18 50358.74 50.4
1.784 0.31 130 58.11 1.18 64026.71 64.0
1.784 0.31 140 62.58 1.18 79967.82 80.0
1.784 0.31 150 67.05 1.18 98356.92 98.4
kW of Air Resistance
4.47 8.94 13.41 17.88 22.35 26.82 31.29 35.76 40.23 44.7 49.17 53.64 58.11 62.58 67.05
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 140 150
Speed (m/s and mph)
Until the vehicle gets going above 60, the air resistance is very small. This is due in part
to our choice in vehicular chassis; the RX-7’s coefficient of drag (how aerodynamically
streamlined it is) is a low .31 and the car’s frontal area is also small. One of the
interesting conclusions from this graph concerns top speed – with an 80 kW fuel cell
running at max, the car would top out at a respectable 140 mph before air drag became
too great. Driving at this speed, however, would quickly burn through the vehicle’s fuel
This section is here for curiosity’s sake only. Most of the prices listed here represent the
cost of components bought off the shelf. Other components do not have “list” prices, and
we could only estimate their cost at this time. In any case, these components are not
mass-produced in nearly the volume they would be if hydrogen cars were built to replace
gasoline vehicles. Their prices are several multiples higher than they could be given
large-scale production. These estimates are not meant to scare people away from the
technology; they merely represent how significant the economy of scale can be. It is
impossible to say at this point how a fully developed hydrogen vehicle would compare in
cost to today’s cars, but the major car companies would not be pursuing the technology if
it could not be made cost effective.
The chart on the following page describes the cost of each component.
Category Component cost $
estimated at $3,000 per kW output 80 kW fuel cell $240,000
these prices are pure speculation DyneCell W 150 $2,000
DyneCell V 74 (x2) $2,000
gas lines $200
AC Motor and Controller (Siemens)
quotes from metricmind.com 1PV5135 WS14 $5,581
Simovert 6SV-1 AC inverter $3,996
AC Motor and Controller (MES-DEA)
quotes from metricmind.com MES 200-250 $3,820
MES DEA TIM 600 ac inverter $4,694
price is outdated; should be cheaper Maxwell BCAP0008 (x40) $5,480
these prices could vary a lot, and are relevant only
to our specific design Mazda RX-7 (used) $1,000
High Pressure tires $500
Motor Mounts $500
Modification to the suspension $1,000
supplied with MES 200-250 $1,194
- needed to replace conventional systems
previously powered by gasoline engine Vacuum pump, water pump $500
- other, such as wiring other $500
more speculation cooling system $1,000
drivetrain adaptors $500
misc frame modifications $1,000
vehicle total $265,888
(assumes MES-DEA motor system is used)
It is noteworthy that the vast majority of this ridiculous price tag comes from the fuel
cell; as discussed in the Fuel Cell section, it is currently made from rare metals. Again,
the future will hopefully be brighter and provide cheaper fuel cells.
Appendix 1: Sources of Hydrogen
To be truly environmentally friendly, a hydrogen car must run off hydrogen produced in
ways that do not pollute. Unfortunately, most of the cheap and common ways of
producing hydrogen do lead to pollution. Hydrogen is easily gathered from fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels are hydrocarbons composed of hydrogen and carbon. Most hydrogen today is
produced from breaking down fossil fuels into their components and collecting the
hydrogen. The remaining carbon is dumped into the atmosphere where it combines with
oxygen to create carbon dioxide, the infamous greenhouse gas. Because fossil fuels are
currently plentiful, this method for generating hydrogen is the cheapest.
However, this strategy undermines the principle behind hydrogen vehicles – the idea that
we can avoid harming the environment while we go about our daily business. This
technique also will not eliminate all our energy problems, because we will still need large
quantities of fossil fuels which may not be available in sufficient amounts in this country.
For example, 48% of hydrogen produced today comes from natural gas, and 30% from
oil. Because fossil fuels are not infinite, using them to generate hydrogen can only be a
There is a cleaner way to create hydrogen. Through the process of electrolysis, water is
broken down into its components, hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be stored for
use in vehicles and the oxygen can be released into the atmosphere. The atmosphere is
already approximately 21% oxygen, so the additional amount will not be foreign. There
is no need to worry about changing the environment by increasing oxygen levels and
damaging plant life. A hydrogen vehicle with a running fuel cell will draw oxygen back
out of the air in the same quantity as was added during electrolysis. Using electrolysis of
water to generate hydrogen creates a nearly perfect balance.
Figure 17: A balance is achieved. All water destroyed to create hydrogen and oxygen for the car
is recreated in the fuel cell as the vehicle is driven. There are no environmental changes in the
levels of any compounds.
Unfortunately, electrolysis of water is expensive. A lot of electricity is needed to break
down water into its components. Essentially, this process is the reverse of running a fuel
cell, so the high potential output of fuel cells per quantity of hydrogen now means that a
large amount of energy is needed to break down water. Because electrolysis requires
electricity, and most electricity if made in fossil fuel power plants, this strategy, if
implemented today, does not reach a perfect “zero-emission” goal. The only way to have
a completely pollution-free supply chain is to generate electricity for electrolysis from
renewable sources. Perhaps in the future large arrays of solar panels will work to break
down water to extract the necessary hydrogen. Harnessing wind and water power is also
something we should be working towards today, regardless of the future of hydrogen
vehicles. In the far future perhaps hydrogen fusion will become a viable way of
generating electricity, and our energy needs will be taken care of. There will be plenty of
electricity to generate hydrogen cleanly and cheaply.
Iceland is the perfect example of how hydrogen can be generated cleanly. The nation has
decided to move towards a hydrogen-powered economy. Iceland has the natural
advantage (in this case) of being located on the boundary of two tectonic plates.
Consequently, there is a significant amount of geothermal activity that can be used to
generate cheap electricity. By capping off geysers and using superheated water provided
by the earth, Iceland can produce large amounts of electricity without harming the
environment. This can be used in turn to produce hydrogen via electrolysis, effectively
making hydrogen vehicles one-hundred percent green.
Regardless of which method is used to generate hydrogen, it is estimated the vehicle fuel
costs will either match or fall below that of current prices for gasoline vehicles. The
possible higher cost per kg of hydrogen over gallon of gasoline is offset by the fact that
hydrogen vehicles are far more efficient. A kilogram of hydrogen, although holding
nearly the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline, can propel a vehicle far further.
Hydrogen cars will be cheaper to drive.
Appendix 2: How Safe is Hydrogen?
Hydrogen is a flammable gas, so safety must be a concern. However, hydrogen’s
flammability must not prohibit its use; after all, gasoline is also highly combustible.
Hydrogen nevertheless can be considered slightly more dangerous because unlike carbon-
based fuels, it will combust in the presence of oxygen with little or no cause – no spark is
necessary. However, several properties also make hydrogen safer. In a vehicle, hydrogen
gas is by necessity stored in a very strong tank. A weaker tank could not handle the
pressures (in excess of 5000 psi) that the hydrogen is stored at. In a collision, it is very
unlikely that the tanks will rupture, especially when they are designed specifically for
automotive applications. A gasoline tank, on the other hand, can break open easily. It is
also very unlikely that the hydrogen would cause an explosion, even given a leak in the
tanks, because only a very rich and concentrated mixture is unstable. As hydrogen is
literally the lightest element in the universe, it will quickly rise and disperse into the
atmosphere. The chance that conditions for explosion would be met is extremely slim.
the event that
tank or the
lines broke, the
worst that the
Figure 18: A demonstration of a hydrogen and a gasoline fire in a vehicle. do is ignite. In
The hydrogen fire burns upward, and is unlikely to ignite other parts of the
car. The gasoline fire, on the other hand, spreads around the entire vehicle this situation, it
and is an obvious danger to anyone in it. This simulation was performed by
DaimlerChrysler and the image comes from Scientific American Frontiers at is unlikely that
be burned because a hydrogen flame radiates little heat. The result would be somewhat
like a Bunsen burner – a small flame where the hydrogen met the atmosphere. There
would be no risk of the flame following the hydrogen down into a tank or along a fuel
line, because like a Bunsen burner, hydrogen needs oxygen to burn. Inside the tanks there
is no oxygen, and therefore there can be no fire. Finally, unlike gasoline fires, hydrogen
combustion does not produce any smoke (the result of hydrogen combustion is water).
Smoke inhalation is the number one cause of death in gasoline fires.
One event many skeptics point to is the Hindenburg disaster, where a large zeppelin
caught fire and resulted in many fatalities. Because the Hindenburg was filled with
hydrogen, some people believe that the hydrogen was responsible for the fire. It has been
demonstrated that the fire was actually a result of flammable cloth surrounding the
hydrogen and electricity in the atmosphere. When the Hindenburg burned, the hydrogen
that did ignite burned above the passengers. The 65% of the people who survived were
able to avoid falling out of the gondola or getting burned by the flammable cloth or diesel
fuel. They rode the flaming gondola down to earth. The accident could have happened
just as easily if the Hindenburg had been filled with non-reactive helium.
Finally, the fuel used in hydrogen vehicles bears little resemblance to that of hydrogen
bombs – in the case of a hydrogen bomb an isotope of hydrogen (usually deuterium) is
used. Even so, the only way to create fusion in H-bombs is through the use of several
coordinated uranium A-bombs, forcing the deuterium to fuse. There is absolutely no way
this is possible in a car.
Hydrogen cars should match or surpass current gasoline vehicles with regard to safety.
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