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Fuel-cell road rally

Fuel-cell road rally

The California Fuel Cell Partnership (CFCP) sponsored a three-day event to show off the current state of fuel-cell vehicles. Cars from every major fuel-cell effort participated, driving from Sacramento to San Francisco with event stops along the way, where the public was invited to try out the cars. I attended the final stop, which was at the San Francisco Presidio. The cars I got to see were the Nissan X-Trail FCV, the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell, the GM HydroGen3, the Ford Focus FCV, the VW HyMotion, the Honda FCX, the Toyota FCHV, the Hyundai FCEV, and a fuel-cell-powered Chevy Silverado, which GM built for the Army. These vehicles are driven by electric motors that get their power from fuel cells. All the manufacturers use compressed hydrogen tanks. Most store their hydrogen at 5,000psi, although GM has pushed that up to 10,000psi. The majority of the cars felt like they could be ready for production, with the Honda FCX and Mercedes-Benz F-Cell really standing out. Both cars ran exceptionally smoothly. The Honda is a little quieter because its fuel cells, from UTC Power, don't require a compressor. Other cars ran on Ballard fuel cells, which use a compressor to push air into the cell that makes an audible whine.

The cars work very well, but a refueling infrastructure is needed to make them practical. The CFCP says there are 17 stations around California. It also works with UC Davis's Hydrogen Pathways program, which researches new ways to extract hydrogen from the environment.