Iran's Miraculous Electric-Hydro Car

By Bill Moore

Posted: 23 Feb 2011

With a fair share of the Middle East in turmoil at the moment, Iran's President Ahmadinejad found time to not only condemn the use of violence by the Qaddafi regime in Libya against peaceful protesters -- something his own government resorted to not that long ago -- but to also check out the country's new "electric-hydro" car. The typically sparse news report coming out of Tehran claimed it has a top speed of 180 km per hour and can travel 500 km "with every instance of recharging." Even more impressive -- and totally confusing -- is its 140 watts per hour energy consumption, while weighing 350 kg (771 lbs). Recharge time is either a breakthrough time of between two to six minutes (Iranian Press TV) or 4 hours (Trends News Agency in Azerbaijan).

Given the terrible pollution problems experienced every winter by the 10 million-plus residents of Tehran due to temperature inversions and aging vehicles with little if any pollution controls and cheap, subsidized gasoline, I'd be delighted to see the Iranians develop just such technology. Frankly, the world (except those it's labeled 'the great satan') would line up for visas to visit the country and license whatever it is they claim they have.

The trouble is, from clearly inaccurate news reports like these, it would appear to most knowledgeable observers that what they have is a really poorly informed propaganda machine that doesn't even begin to understand EV technology, or simply isn't allowed to accurately report the truth.

Let's start with the "electric-hydro" or as it's also called, the "electric-hydrogen-powered" car. This could be anything. It could be normal gasoline engine car modified to run on hydrogen with some form of electric-assist or maybe even just an automatic engine start/stop system. In Iran, where they are pushing to convert cars to use compressed natural gas, of which they have the world's largest known reserves, an automobile capable of burning either natural gas or gasoline are usually referred to by their media as "hybrids."

Or, this could be some form of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, which when hydrogen and oxygen are combined in the catalyst, generates water vapor and electrical current. A fair number of developing countries have managed to achieve this level of technology. The fuel cell may actually drive the vehicle, or it could simply function as a range extender, but both are problematic in this context , because of the weight being reported. Is the 350 kg the weight of the vehicle, which would basically make it a small, experimental design with room for one or two people, or is it the weight of the power system: fuel cell, hydrogen tank, batteries, inverter, controller, etc? The report just doesn't tell us.

Then there is the range: 500 km or 310 miles. Only recently, after a decade of research and untold tens of millions of dollars, companies like Toyota, Hyundai and GM have achieved these ranges with their fuel cell vehicles, and that after compressing the hydrogen to five and ten thousand PSI in high-tech carbon fiber-wound tanks. Even assuming the "electric-hydro" car is some form of IC-engine vehicle designed to run on hydrogen -- an approach both Ford and BMW abandoned several years ago -- with some electric assist or EV-only range, the amount of energy in the hydrogen required to power in internal combustion engine over 300 miles would necessitate very large tanks and high compression levels.

Based on the paucity of information coming out of Iran -- at least in English (I don't read Farsi) -- it's nearly impossible to determine what exactly Mr. Ahmadinejad actually reviewed. Frankly, given the repressive nature of their current political system, he could have been shown anything, told anything, and he'd probably not be the wiser. Clearly, the Iranian media hasn't a clue.

That being said, based on Mohammad amin Ahangari's Flickr photostream, there's a great deal of EV activity going on at the university level in Iran and that's a wonderful and promising thing.

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