Hydrogen smart car for India

C&I Issue 3, 2014

The UK’s Birmingham City University showcased a new hydrogen car at the Auto Expo Motor Show in New Delhi, India, in February 2014.  The car’s inventors believe it could be the world’s first affordable H2 fuel-cell powered mass transport vehicle. It will be road tested in India in summer 2014.

The car will have zero exhaust emissions and consist of a hydrogen fuel cell and an electric motor.  The hydrogen fuel will be stored in a cluster of low pressure metal hydride cylinders changed as easily as a LPG cylinder – safer than storing the gas at the enormous pressures proposed by some car companies, say the designers. The hydrogen will be produced by a stand-alone array of solar cells, converting sunlight to electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. 

‘We are using a lightweight composite material to keep down [the vehicle] weight to 200kg but we are looking to reduce it significantly,’ says Parmjit Chima, head of the school of engineering at Birmingham. ‘Our hydrogen setup is looking to produce 20,000 litres of hydrogen per day and hydride cylinders are capable of storing beyond 2000 litres.’

He predicts the vehicle range will be from 100 to 180km and says the metal hydride tanks will come in multiples of 50 litres that can be taken on and off depending on need.  The car’s body work is being built in India, while the motors, batteries, fuel cells and converters are being developed in the UK.

The mass of a 50 litre capacity metal hydride storage container is 250g; using  a single hydride store the vehicle will travel 70–80 km, and to fill the hydride through the solar source will take 5–6 hours. The plan is to conduct trials with a prototype vehicle this summer.  Chima hopes to have a vehicle ready for commercialisation 12 to 18 months after that, priced at around £2000–£3000.

‘Metal hydrides are cutting edging science, but not the kind of thing close to commercialisation,’ comments Paul Dodds of the University College London Energy Institute, UK. ‘This design is quite different from commercialised cars, which tend to use gas compressed to 700 bar.  This vehicle uses metal hydride storage. That’s good but it is heavy and expensive.’  Dodds believes the large-scale adoption of hydrogen vehicles will require a pipeline network and fuelling stations.  

The project is a partnership between Birmingham City University scientists and UK motorsport entrepreneur and manufacturer Spenser Ashley and the DYP-DC centre for automotive research in Pune, India.

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