Hydrogen age coming upon us fast
Nov. 18, 2000 - Cameron Smith - TORONTO STAR
It's about the size of a regular washing machine
and it's going to get about one-third smaller. If
all goes as expected, you'll be able to buy one in
two or three years for $2,300 to $3,000, put it in
your driveway, plug it into a normal electrical outlet,
hook a water hose to it, and pump fuel into your car.
The fuel will be hydrogen; your car will be powered
by electricity delivered from hydrogen fuel cells; and
there will be no resulting pollution.
Such cars already exist. Last January, General Motors
unveiled its prototype model at the Detroit auto show.
According to the company, the car could achieve a mileage
equivalent to 100 kilometres per 2.2 litres of gasoline
(130 miles to the gallon).
The Ford Motor Co. has fitted a hydrogen-powered engine
into a standard car, and proved that it would work,
but got a lower mileage rating because the car was not
designed to accommodate a hydrogen fuel-cell system.
The home fuelling unit is built by Stuart Energy Systems
Corp. located at The West Mall in Toronto, near the
intersection of Hwy. 427 and the Gardiner Expressway.
Next week, the company expects to deliver four of its
home units to Ford for use in Ford's research and development
program. Stuart also makes larger units, and they've
been used for fuelling hydrogen-powered buses built
by Ballard Power Systems Inc. for demonstration projects
in Vancouver and in Thousand Palms, Calif.
Stuart Energy was founded in 1948 to supply hydrogen
for industrial purposes - the manufacture of a wide
range of items, such as stainless steel, plate glass,
light bulbs, edible oils, polyethylene and polypropylene.
What got the company interested in the transportation
sector was the 1990 announcement by the California Air
Resources Board that by 2003, 10 per cent of the cars
sold in the state would have to be zero pollution-emitting
vehicles. Hydrogen-powered cars will meet that requirement,
emitting only water vapour.
By 1995, Alexander Stuart, the company's chairman, had
launched Stuart into a research and development program
that has cost the company $14.7 million to date, and
occupies 40 of its 121 full-time employees and consultants,
more than 30 per cent of its work force.
However, targeting the transportation sector has risks,
as the company noted in a recent prospectus aimed at
raising $150 million in the stock market. No one knows
for sure what types of cars consumers will choose. Will
they be hydrogen powered? Or will they be electric?
Or gasoline-electric hybrids? Will new and emerging
technologies beat out hydrogen? Will bigger and more
powerful companies shoulder Stuart out of the market?
Electric cars are more efficient than hydrogen-powered.
They are 90 per cent efficient, meaning that for every
100 units of energy in the electricity drawn from an
outlet and put into a car battery, the car will get
90 units of energy for operating. But electric cars
have a range of about 240 kilometres; they depend on
huge, heavy and expensive batteries that take a long
time to charge.
Hydrogen-powered cars will have 2 ½ times the range of an electric car. They can be filled
overnight, like an electric car, directly from Stuart's
home unit. Or the home unit can be used to fill a storage
tank, in which case, they can be filled within minutes,
just like a car powered with natural gas.
However, their efficiency is only 35 per cent. Thirty
per cent of the energy is consumed by Stuart's unit
in creating and compressing the hydrogen. And the fuel
cells in a car will consume another 35 per cent converting
the hydrogen back into electricity.
Even so, the cost (not counting the purchase price of
the home unit) will be about the same as a driver pays
now for gasoline, says Stuart's son Andrew, CEO of the
"We're at the beginning of the beginning," he adds.
And this, in the midst of all the dire news from the
global warming conference in The Hague, strikes a most
welcome note of hope.