Saturday, April 18, 2009

New fuel cells

The Hanover trade show starts on Monday. I will not be attending, but I did get a press release from Fraunhofer ISE about a new "commercial PEM fuel cell with an electric power output of 300W" they will be exhibiting here.

For those of you not familiar with the lingo, these are basically the ones that were supposed to be available in cars no later than next year -- but you can forget about that. I'm not sure what the research institute means by "commercial," but fuel cells are hard to find commercially, at least for consumers.

Nonetheless, such a system combined with a single battery would be preferable to the large battery packs currently available in the Twike, which I wrote about a few days ago. The advantages of such a system would be many, but especially: you could theoretically drive endlessly rather than waiting for your batteries to recharge for 3 to 8 hours, and if you needed more energy, you would not need to look further than the nearest gas station. Trying to find public electrical outlets is quite a challenge these days, as I can attest from experience.

300 watts might not seem like much -- the Twike would need closer to 2000 watts to run normally, and even small cars have the equivalent of 50,000 at least -- but it would be enough to get a Twike moving along with battery power, fuel cells can be easily "stacked" -- in fact, one speaks of "fuel cell stacks." And while fuel cells apparently still cost thousands of dollars per kilowatt of output (this PDF puts the figure at 3000 dollars per kilowatt), if you had even one of those, you could probably make do with only one Lion battery that Twike sells and still have roughly the performance of the full battery pack of five -- and the savings would exceed 10,000 euros. It therefore generally makes sense to use fuel cells with small battery packs instead of large battery packs, provided we can get the fuel cells to work.

Fraunhofer seems to be especially excited because they are using bioethanol, but even if you use normal gasoline in an efficient vehicle like the Twike, it would still make sense because fuel economy would improve tremendously. To give you a ballpark figure, we are talking about literally hundreds of miles per gallon in the Twike.

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