From our own correspondent: Hydrogen power in a small package

11 May 2009 00:00  [Source: ICB]

It was not the usual press kit. As we opened the box delivered to our New York office, we found to our surprise the H-racer - the world's smallest hydrogen car!

Sleek in design and complete with a separate hydrogen fueling station hooked up to a solar panel, the H-racer, powered by Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, was unlike anything we'd seen.

A far cry from my childhood Matchbox cars, this "toy" car is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell connected to a small balloon within the chassis. Pure hydrogen is pumped in via the fueling station, which you just need to fill with water.

To clear the balloon, you use a syringe (included) to suck the air out until the balloon is flat. Remove the syringe, and then you're clear to start filling the balloon with pure hydrogen from the fueling station.

In theory, the solar panel is supposed to power the fueling station to produce hydrogen for the car. But that requires bright sunlight - something we didn't have when testing this. As a backup, the station can run on two AA batteries - cheating? Maybe, but this is the only way it worked this time. We'll try it again with only the solar panel on a sunny day.

More a science project than a toy, it took hours to install the components and connect all the tubes. It was the first assembly project where I actually followed the instructions.

It wasn't easy. In particular, it was tough to connect one of the tubes from the syringe to the fueling station. It just didn't fit! It took the expertise of one of our editors, Feliza Mirasol, who learned the fine art of tubing while getting her master's degree in marine environmental sciences, to get the job done.

Yet the end result was that hydrogen was produced and the car ran on just that - hydrogen and a fuel cell! No speed records were shattered, but it did chug along the carpet.

Now, this does get you thinking - why can't we one day use hydrogen to power all vehicles?

German chemical major BASF, which sent us the H-racer, has high hopes for fuel cells. Last week in Somerset, New Jersey, US, the company inaugurated the world's only fuel cell manufacturing plant that produces complete membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) - the heart of the fuel cell.

By: Joseph Chang
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