For the last 16 years, Spowers has been founder and chief engineer of Riversimple, a small hydrogen-fuelled car company based in Llandrindod Wells, in mid-Wales. In 2016, it unveiled its first production-ready car: the Rasa, a radical, ultra-light two-seater powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. This year, the company will roll out a beta test of 20 cars in Monmouthshire and if all goes well, Spowers hopes to have the car on the market in 2019. “As far as we can tell,” he says, “we are the only independent hydrogen car start-up in the world.” Its chassis is carbon fibre, and it uses low-rolling resistance wheels. Every part has been painstakingly engineered for lightness; the lower the weight, the less energy required. The car can do 0-60mph in 10 seconds – the equivalent of a Ford Fiesta – and has a range of around 300 miles. But it does that on just 1.5kg of hydrogen, using a tiny 8.5kW fuel cell. Toyota’s hydrogen car, the Mirai, uses 5kg to achieve the same range. The car industry has been slow to kick its fossil-fuel habit: electric vehicles (EVs) still make up less than 2% of all new cars sold. But that is expected to change rapidly: in 2017, the UK and France announced their intention to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Germany and China are expected to follow suit. All Volvos will be electric or hybrid from 2019. Every major manufacturer is investing heavily in the development of electric cars such as the Tesla Model 3 and Nissan Leaf, which run on lithium-ion batteries. A longstanding defence made by hydrogen advocates is that it is more practical. Hydrogen cars can travel more than 300 miles on a single tank and refuel in minutes, similar to refuelling a petrol car, whereas today’s EVs take several hours to charge. Solar and wind power are intermittent, which is why governments are piling money into grid storage technologies. Therein may lie hydrogen’s advantage: it can be produced using excess renewables energy at peak time, then stored in tanks or underground caverns. Moreover, because hydrogen emits no carbon when burned, it can be used to supplement or replace natural gas (methane) in heating homes and businesses – responsible for nearly a third of the UK’s carbon emissions. To date, that has been considered too expensive. But so, too, will be the process of upgrading the electricity grid to deal with electric cars. At the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, a consortium of companies including Toyota, Honda, Daimler, Shell and BMW announced the formation of the Hydrogen Council, which will invest in hydrogen research and lobbying. Japan has announced its intention to become the world’s first “hydrogen society”, aiming to have 35 hydrogen fuel stations in operation by 2020. Toyota, whose Prius popularised the hybrid car, is betting heavily on hydrogen, with a £65,000 consumer sedan called the Mirai, fuel-cell buses and trucks in development. “As a storage medium, it’s really quite interesting,” says Jon Hunt, who works for Toyota’s hydrogen business. “You can ship it in the gas grid network, you can burn it in a domestic boiler, you can use it in processes like fuel cells.” Toyota expects 30% of vehicles to be hydrogen powered by 2050.
Guardian 20th Jan 2017 read more »