Hydrogen or Gasoline? Controversial Debate to `Fuel' the Day's Agenda at SAE World Congress

Panel to discuss how to fuel the fuel cell powerplants of tomorrow's cars.

Published: 26-Dec-2000

WARRENDALE, Pa., Dec. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- The ability to purchase a fuel cell vehicle is just around the corner, however one big question remains: "what fuel should power these low-emission vehicles?"

The controversial topic will be debated during a daylong session, "Fuel Cell Power for Transportation," at the SAE World Congress, Monday, March 5, Room W1-54, Cobo Center, Detroit, Michigan, USA.

"The question of fuel choice for fuel cell vehicles remains an open one," says Paul J. Berlowitz, ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Co. and SAE panelist. "The major practical barrier to widespread introduction of fuel cell vehicles is the need to provide hydrogen to the fuel cell. Development of onboard hydrogen storage may be practical in the future, but will require a large R&D effort. At this time, a practical solution for hydrogen storage is not available."

According to Berlowitz, numerous factors such as safety and health concerns, infrastructure cost and public acceptance must be considered before a fuel is selected.

"While hydrogen may be a long-term fuel source for fuel cell vehicles, current work in fuel processing of "gasoline" fuels could produce a practical vehicle in the next several years. We are currently actively involved with OEM partners in developing gasoline-based fuel cell fuel processors and determining the fuel requirements for these processors."

The first fuel cell was built in 1839, but serious interest in the technology as a generator did not happen until the 1960s when the U.S. space program chose fuel cells over risky nuclear power and more expensive solar energy.

A fuel cell produces electricity by combining oxygen and hydrogen in an electrochemical reaction with only pure water as a product. Multiple cells are "stacked" together to provide a high voltage power source to an electric motor to power the vehicle. The stack continues to produce power as long as fuel is provided and does not produce any emissions.

Panelists for the 11 a.m. discussion, moderated by Richard Stobart of Cambridge Consultants, Ltd., include Berlowitz, Gary J. Acres, Johnson Matthey PLC and Peter Histon, BP International. During the daylong technical session, more than a dozen international experts will address different fuel types and fuel processing. The panelists will discuss the wider aspects of fuel choice, and the demand placed on research and development.

The SAE World Congress, the world's largest showcase of automotive engineering technologies, attracts attendees from more than 50 countries. To attend, visit www.sae.org/congress or call 1-877-SAE-CONG (723-2664); outside the U.S. and Canada, call 1-724-772-4027.

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