The Ford HySeries Fuel Cell Hybrid is the 'Sleeper' of 2007 NAIAS

Unlike internal combustion engines,the maximum power output for fuel cells makes an exponential difference in the cost of the fuel cell. Reducing the maximum power output required from the fuel cell is one of the major cost savings in this approach.

Published: 24-Jan-2007

If you ever buy a fuel cell car…..

It’s likely to use a system developed by Ford.

In one of the industry’s best ‘Well DUH’ moments in recent memory, engineers at Ford hooked up a hydrogen fuel cell to a bank of batteries instead of an electric motor, and took a big step towards making hydrogen powered cars a reality.

According to Ford’s researchers, using the fuel cell to keep a bank of batteries charged doubled the lifespan of the cell stack, and reduced the weight, cost, and complexity of the fuel cell system by 50%.

In the past, hydrogen fuel cells have been hooked up directly to electric motors, and the amount of electricity produced by the fuel cell corresponded with the desired speed and acceleration. This placed variable loads on the fuel cell and required a throttling mechanism for the hydrogen gas, among various complications.

With this system, however, Ford side stepped all that. The fuel cell simply charges a battery pack which can also be plugged in.

The battery pack provides a store of power that can be more easily ‘throttled’ to produce acceleration and steady cruising speeds, and the fuel cell merely provides on-board charging. This reduces the fuel cell’s control mechanism to a relatively simple on/off setting–it is either charging the battery pack or it isn’t. Eliminating the variable load on the fuel cell also increases the life of the stack, and sidesteps the need to engineer the stack to perform under heavy load.

Previous fuel cell cars required a fuel cell capable of offering wide open throttle acceleration, and regardless of how often you put the pedal to the metal in your car, the fuel cell had to offer that level of performance. Unlike internal combustion engines, however, the maximum power output for fuel cells makes an exponential difference in the cost of the fuel cell. Reducing the maximum power output required from the fuel cell is one of the major cost savings in this approach.

Granted, the hydrogen infrastructure barely exists, and these fuel cell cars are still $100,000+ one-offs, but Ford has just dramatically simplified the equation for auto manufacturers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other companies latch onto this approach.

Long-term, the ‘08 Focus and Five Hundred, and the Interceptor concept are not as important as this breakthrough approach to the fuel cell question.

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